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Peter Sagan says “part of the beauty of cycling has been lost” amid COVID-19 restrictions

The Slovakian is setting his sights on a fourth world road race title in 2022 and says he won't do a Alejandro Valverde and keep racing until he's 40.

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Cycling has missed what makes it “beautiful” during the coronavirus pandemic according to Peter Sagan.

During an interview with the Spanish sports daily Marca, Sagan dismissed the idea that racing was more exciting during the COVID-19 era. In fact, he said the sport was missing much that made it exciting.

A crowdpleaser on the bike, Sagan often feeds off the buzz coming from the fans when he races. It is one of the aspects he has missed the most with many races being effectively contested behind closed doors — though that has started to change in recent months with a growing number of events featuring big spectator numbers.

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“The only thing that the virus has done is to make everything difficult. I think that now it is much worse in this sense,” he told Marca. “I do not think that now the races are more fun, on the contrary, part of the beauty of cycling has been lost.

“It is difficult to travel and to meet up with people. The emotion that people transmit is missing, and the fans that follow the races. Without people, cycling is different and worse.”

Sagan was talking at the Giro criterium in Dubai, where he and a host of big names traveled last week. It was his final event in Bora-Hansgrohe colors as he’s due to leave the squad at the end of the season.

Sagan had his own brush with COVID-19 this year, coming down with the virus in early February. The bout with the virus put paid to much of his classics season, though he picked up a win in March at the Volta a Catalunya and again the following month at the Tour de Romandie.

The ciclamino points jersey, and a stage win, at the Giro d’Italia was the highlight of his season. It was, however, followed by a tricky Tour de France that was marked by a knee injury he picked up in the crash-laden grand départ.

“It has been a good season, although not perfect. I started with the Covid, I spent the time of classics like this. I recovered in the Giro and then the problems returned in the Tour. For me, the season is not bad, but somewhat irregular,” he said.

Sagan finished the season with five wins plus the Giro’s points jersey. He is not as prolific as he once was, but it is still a solid season for the Slovakian. With a peloton burgeoning with big talents, maintaining his place at the front of the pack is increasingly harder.

“A lot of quality people have come out like I did back in the day. Every year the level is higher. There is a lot of demand,” Sagan said.

A fresh start and pondering on retirement

Marca reports that Sagan will kickstart his season in Argentina at the Vuelta a San Juan, which returns after a year’s hiatus due to COVID-19. He has also set his sights on the major goal of winning a fourth road race world title in Wollongong in Australia.

When Sagan rolls out at the start of next year, it will be in the colors of a new team for the first time in six years. Argentina will be his debut for the French TotalEnergies team, and it will be the first time since 2009 that he will ride below cycling’s top tier.

It’s not something that concerns him and he’s looking forward to starting the next chapter in his career.

“They have experience in the peloton. They have been cycling for more than 30 years and now they are taking another step forward. I am happy to sign with them. I think I can still contribute a lot in experience and victories, which in the end is what we all like,” he said.

“I have new motivations; it will be good for me. Seeing new faces always makes you have to have a different mentality. I’m looking forward to the season starting, to start strong, and that is a good sign.”

During the interview, Sagan touched on the topic of retirement without giving too much away. At 31, he is no longer a young upstart, but he still has time on the clock in his career.

With a new contract in his back pocket, Sagan isn’t thinking of retirement in the near future, but he knows that time is ticking, and he has no plans of extending his career into the next decade of his life.

“Careers can be long or short, look at [Alejandro] Valverde. I started early, but when to retire is a particular decision,” he said. “There are other things in life, the nice thing is that one can decide when. Valverde is not a benchmark for me.

“With all due respect to him, it is fine, but I’m not going to race beyond 40 that’s for sure. I admire him a lot, but I don’t see myself like that. I don’t know where I’m going to be in 10 years, now I’m just thinking about riding. I’ll see, later.”