‘Generous’ Sagan rides for team in rainbow jersey debut

World champ Peter Sagan, feeling a bit run-down from post-Richmond travel and events, chose to work for Bennati on Thursday.

MADINAT ZAYED, United Arab Emirates (VN) — Peter Sagan began his reign as world champion Thursday at the Abu Dhabi Tour. Instead of trying for a win in the rainbow jersey, he turned his attention to his Tinkoff-Saxo teammates because he was tired from the last week.

The Slovak carried water bottles and led-out the sprint in his first day back racing, in stage 1 of the Abu Dhabi Tour to Madinat Zayed. Italian Daniele Bennati tried to follow his work, but could only manage third behind stage winner Andrea Guardini (Astana) and Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick-Step).

“I decided to work for the team because I’m not well. I had a hard week; also today, I didn’t feel very well,” Sagan said. “It’s not that I had parties, there were no time for parties after the world championships, but it was all the events, traveling around, from the USA to home, to the Giro presentation and here.

“But OK, it’s the last race of the season, and I want to work for the team now and then. I don’t know about trying to win, I’m not going to stress myself going crazy for a win.”

Sagan stripped at the team van after the finish. Right away, he took off his white jersey with rainbow bands to clean up and cool down with a wet towel.

“And you know what, he didn’t even have his race numbers this morning!” sport director, Tristan Hoffman said. “Luckily, they had other numbers for him at the start line, and he could get going.”

Heat blanketed the stage near Abu Dhabi Thursday. Sagan, despite not feeling well, gave his attention to his teammates. He stuffed his rainbow jersey with water bottles at the team car and carried them to his five Tinkoff teammates. With 50 kilometers to race, he said to Bennati that he would work for him instead of trying to win in his rainbow jersey debut.

“I didn’t want to do it,” Bennati said. “I don’t throw myself into bunch sprints like that anymore. I wish I could’ve at least finished second given the work that he did for me.

“To have Peter, fresh in the rainbow jersey, pull for me is something special. He could’ve done the sprint for himself given how strongly he pulled, but he pulled for me. He’s generous.”

Bennati added that it is normal that Sagan was tired after the week that he had following the win in Richmond, Virginia.

“He’s proud to be in that jersey, though,” Bennati added. “We are also proud to have him in our team and to work for him.”

In the finale, Sagan took over at the front of the group. Fans may have thought that he was going for himself, but he pulled off for Bennati. Guardini shot ahead, though. “I passed him with 200 meters on the left side,” Guardini said. “I happy he didn’t close me down. He saw me, and he could have blocked me in. “Peter’s a good rider to have in the rainbow jersey. He’s going to be a good world champion for cycling.”

The Abu Dhabi Tour continues Friday with the second stage of the four-day race, from Abu Dhabi’s Formula One circuit to the Yas Mall.