The prospect is intriguing at many levels. Any deal to link the Slovakian superstar with the Belgian super-team would come laden with explosive potential and complicated layers.
If media reports in L’Equipe ring true, Sagan joining the Belgian classics powerhouse is just what both parties need. Here’s why:
First off, Sagan would fit perfectly within the “Wolfpack” mentality and tactical playbook. Let’s admit it, at 31, Sagan is no longer the giant-killer he once was. Last year’s Tour de France proved that. Yet Sagan is absolutely one of the sport’s superstars and still has plenty of kick in his legs, and he could become an integral piece of Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s spring classics playbook.
Think about it: Is Peter Sagan still strong enough to beat the likes of Mathieu van der Poel or Wout van Aert on his own? That’s a long bet these days. Even Sagan at his peak would have trouble handling these brawlers. But imagine seeing Sagan moving, attacking, and racing tactically inside the DQS classics machine, well, it would be a joy to watch.
There’s perhaps an insurmountable hurdle: Sagan would have to give up his A-listing starring role to become part of an ensemble cast. Would he want to? If he’s brutally honest with himself, his best chances of winning more monuments would be to become part of Patrick Lefevere’s monument factory.
Look at Philippe Gilbert. Much like Sagan early in his career, Gilbert could win in a variety of terrain, be it sprint finishes, uphill finales, and explosive scenarios across the calendar. As Gilbert aged, he turned that tactical acumen toward the northern monuments. And it was when he joined the framework of Quick-Step’s classics philosophy that he could unlock the puzzle to win sublime editions of Roubaix and Flanders.
Sagan has always raced like a lone gun-slinger. Though he brings his posse of riders that includes the likes of Daniel Oss, Maciej Bodnar, and his brother Juraj, Sagan has always been the sheriff in his town.
If Sagan is willing to give up some of his autonomy and join the “all-for-one, one-for-all” musketeers mentality at DQS, he’d have much bigger chances of victories in the races that he says matter most.
How Peter Sagan could fit inside the ‘Wolfpack’
Any deal would be a two-way street, and Lefevere knows he could use Sagan’s star power as well.
Right now, his classics program needs a marquee name like Sagan to keep it rolling into the next few seasons.
The untapped potential Remco Evenepoel and the emergence of Kasper Asgreen, not to mention world champion Julian Alaphilippe, assures that Deceuninck-Quick-Step will be on the front line of just about every race in every scenario. But it’s the northern classics that Lefevere, and his ever-loyal sponsor base, loves most.
So does Lefevere need Sagan? If he wants to continue to dominate the races where he’s forged his reputation — the cobblestone classics — the answer is absolutely yes.
— Deceuninck-QuickStep (@deceuninck_qst) April 5, 2021
Behind Asgreen, the team is growing relatively thin. Zdenek Štybar is older than Sagan, and Yves Lampaert has never quite delivered that big victory that many believe he has in his legs. Yet both of those riders realize their best chances of victory at races like Flanders and Roubaix lie by staying firmly inside the ranks of Deceuninck-Quick-Step.
Lefevere’s winning touch on the cobbles dates back to the 1990s. Some of the biggest names in classics history have passed through the team, from Johan Museeuw to Tom Boonen to Gilbert. Sagan would be a natural heir to that legacy.
Adding Sagan to the team’s classics formula could deliver the missing link of what Lefevere would need to take on the rise of van Aert and van der Poel. Even though DQS came out of this year’s classics season with the upper hand, it’s those two dynamic riders who will carry the pulse and tempo of the classics into the next five years or so.
There would be a conflict between Sagan and Sam Bennett, the Irish sprinter who emerged in 2020 to end Sagan’s run in the green jersey at the Tour de France.
The decision could come down to what’s more important to Sagan: more green jerseys and absolute freedom, or becoming part of cycling’s most successful classics program.
Could Patrick Lefevere afford Peter Sagan’s price?
While a “merger” of Sagan, Inc. and the Wolfpack might make sense at the sporting level, making it work out financially could prove challenging.
Sagan is among cycling’s highest-paid riders, and even though he might have hit a fallow patch during the coronavirus, Sagan will still fetch a highly competitive price.
Speculation about Sagan’s future heated up last week when Bora-Hansgrohe owner Ralph Denk suggested in an interview with a German newspaper that the three-time world champion is entering the “autumn” of his career and that any contract extension must consider the reality of the Peter Sagan of today, not the Peter Sagan of 2017.
That’s fair enough. Most contract deals in cycling are typically based on a forward-looking calculus of future results, not on past glory. Sagan might be an exception to that rule in that he is an icon within the sport, and there might be sponsors interested in having Sagan around just as much for his antics and goodwill he brings to a brand.
First off, Lefevere might not have the money to afford Sagan. Last week, Lefevere said the team’s future remains uncertain, though he hinted that things are looking good for 2022 and beyond. Lefevere’s priorities will be keeping Evenepoel, Alaphilippe as well as a core group of riders to support Asgreen and Bennett.
That’s already a lot of money, and even if Sagan might come at a discount or if Lefevere can create one of his famous bonus-laden deals, the cash might not be there for Lefevere even if Sagan would be interested in a deal.
The linchpin could be Specialized. The American bike manufacturer not only backs Lefevere’s team but has a long-running association with Sagan. There are reports that Sagan already has a long-term deal to remain associated with Specialized as a brand ambassador after he retires.
The financial stars could align if Specialized sees value in bringing Sagan and the Wolfpack together under one tent.
If that happens, Sagan and the Wolfpack could push the volume during the spring classics all the way to 11.