Sagan confirmed a two-year deal with the French outfit Tuesday in a move that had long been rumored but still struck a surprise when it was confirmed.
Triple world champ Sagan going to a second-tier team with a threadbare win count? At first sight, it has the hallmarks of a snoozy slide toward the end of the 31-year-old’s career.
But Sagan will be much more than a marketing totem at his new team. The Slovak star will be shouldering a weight of winning expectations as the center of new manager Jean-René Bernaudeau’s bid to take TotalEnergies to the WorldTour.
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“Jean-René wants to pass in the elite, perhaps not as of next year but certainly in 2023. I will make sure to help him,” Sagan told l’Equipe on Tuesday.
“The fact that TotalEnergies is not in the WorldTour today is not a problem for me. I want to help make it a great team.”
Bernaudeau has a grand vision to return to the top of the sport after his team’s Europcar-incarnation slid to the second-tier in 2015, and Sagan is his chosen man for the mission.
Sagan will be joined by Daniel Oss, Maciej Bodnar, sports director Jan Valach and presumably a slate of back-room staffers in the move from Bora-Hansgrohe. Specialized Bicycle Components and Sportful apparel will also be going along for the ride.
With so much investment from manager Bernaudeau and the push for positive – and winning – PR from one of the world’s biggest bike brands, Sagan won’t have room to slide toward his pension.
“This recruitment is above all the marker of a sporting ambition,” Bernaudeau said Tuesday. “Peter is a huge competitor, everyone knows that, and above all, he will bring us victories: We are counting on him for that.”
Bernaudeau sees Sagan and Specialized as a vehicle that will attract grand tour invites and the future talents required to bump TotalEnergies into the big time in the longer term.
Sagan acknowledged — and stepped up to — the responsibility Tuesday.
“I’m going to keep putting the pressure on myself,” he said. “I have put up with a lot of expectations since my professional debut and moving to TotalEnergies will not change anything.
“It is my responsibility to continue to do my job as well as possible and to achieve results, to reward the investment of the sponsors and the confidence of the team.”
The position makes for déjà vu for Sagan. His move to Bora-Hansgrohe in 2017 came with similarly raised eyebrows and an equally huge burden. At the time, the German outfit had just stepped up to the WorldTour, and the then-double world champ and Tour of Flanders winner was the figurehead required to make the project work.
Sagan went on to score a third world champion’s jersey, two Tours de France green jerseys, a Paris-Roubaix win, and a whole lot more in the five years that followed.
“When I joined Bora-Hansgrohe at the end of 2016, it was a small team. In a few years, everything has changed and it has become one of the biggest structures of the WorldTour,” Sagan said.
“What I mean is that I’ve been there before. The most important thing is not the current status of the team but what we are going to do with it.”
Can they make it work?
With Sagan and his crew on board, TotalEnergies will have the potential to go a lot better than its five victories of this season so far.
Anthony Turgis was the revelation of the northern classics for TotalEnergies, scoring seven top-20s through the spring. The Frenchman is booked in for 2022, and Sagan already sees him as a new wingman.
“I have noticed for some time now the performances of Turgis,” Sagan said. “He’s a hell of a rider, we’re going to be able to accomplish great things together.”
Throw one or both of the up-for-renewal classics heavyweights Edvald Boasson Hagen and Niki Terpstra into the 2022 roster and TotalEnergies will have the foundation required for future success.
Sagan said that his long-time sport director Jan Valach will be the most crucial, however. Valach has been by Sagan’s side for the best part of 15 years, and was part of the non-negotiable package that will follow Sagan to France.
Also read: Meet Jan Valach, Sagan’s right-hand man
“He is my trusted man, the one I talk to before and after every race,” Sagan said. “He’s very meticulous, he’s the one who allowed me to win three world championship titles, but he’s also someone who helped me a lot in my private life, things that have nothing to do with the bike. He is an indispensable friend.”
TotalEnergies will have the riders, the staffers, and the equipment to go big in 2022. But it will be no stroll in the park.
Although Sagan has kept the wins coming through this season, making such a huge overhaul “click” won’t come quickly. Sagan has grown accustomed to a Bora-Hansgrohe squad that knows how to control races on his behalf and he may need to find a new way of winning next year as his team irons out the kinks in its all-new arsenal.
The 2023 season will likely be the year the Sagan show is truly switched on – neatly coinciding with the time new WorldTour applications are made available, and his team will be able to try to make its move. But that will only work if Sagan continues to score.
Should Sagan fail to take TotalEnergies to the top in 2023, he could be left riding out his 33rd year in the second division and fading into obscurity.
It’s WorldTour or bust for Sagan and Team TotalEnergies.