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Sagan goes climbing for classics prep

Peter Sagan made his debut at the Tour Down Under, and now he's heading to Spain's Sierra Nevada mountains for altitude training.

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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Peter Sagan will head to the Spanish hills as he ramps up for a rumble across the pavé this spring. Sierra Nevada in Spain’s Andalucía, to be exact, for an important high-altitude training camp ahead of the spring classics.

Sagan spent three weeks at altitude last year and the payoff was impressive, with victories at Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders and a second-place finish at E3 Prijs Harelbeke. Bora – Hansgrohe is hoping to hit the repeat button this spring, and the team is sticking to what works.

“We will go there for three weeks. It was the ideal preparation last year,” Bora sport director Patxi Vila said. “Sierra Nevada has great facilities, it is world-class. It worked perfect for us last year.”

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The Slovakian superstar is coming off a discreet but successful season debut at the Santos Tour Down Under. He didn’t get a win, but he did manage three second places to Aussie sprint ace Caleb Ewan (Orica – Scott). Sagan’s performance was just fine for his new team. The German-based squad was keen to ease Sagan through the paces with his new teammates and staff, and Sagan said he found the laid-back environment of the WorldTour opener ideal.

“There is not much to talk about in terms of victories,” Sagan said Sunday. “But the team is working together well, and we had some nice racing. The big goals are still coming.”

The two-time defending world champion was the star of the week, both on and off the bike, and was wildly popular with the fervent Aussie fans.

“He gave it a real go here. Three second places and the effort in the [People’s Choice] classic,” Tour Down Under director Mike Turtur said. “Another 100km to make the stages 250km, it’s a different story because that is where he comes into his own. It was an honor to host him and have him here as the world champion, and he’s set a great example. He brings a lot to the sport. His personality, the way he races, and his honesty. What you see is what you get. He will just tell what he thinks. He will not try to butter anything up or be political. I love that about him.”

Sagan would have liked to have won, but he also worked for sprinter teammate Sam Bennett and also helped lead out Jay McCarthy to win a critical mid-race time bonus in Sunday’s finale, which allowed McCarthy to bounce up to the final podium with third.

Upon returning to Europe this week, Sagan will head to the Sierra Nevada mountains for three weeks of intense preparation ahead of his first major goal of the season, the spring classics. He will stay at the high-altitude training center CAR (Centro de Alto Rendimiento), the state-sponsored, state-of-the-art facility perched at 5,104 feet above sea level.

The peloton’s top GC riders have been trekking to Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands for years, but Vila said the sub-tropical island is too hot and the climbs too long and steep for classics-bound riders. In contrast, Sierra Nevada is nestled at the top of a long, gradual climb, with plenty of rolling flats and hill country down in the valley floor.

“The good thing about Sierra Nevada is that it is cooler weather like the classics. Tenerife is too hot and the climbs are too hard,” he said. “The training there is perfect for going to the classics.”

Altitude training has been de rigueur for the peloton’s fleetest GC contenders, but earlier efforts by classics riders to mimic the same race results across the pavé have fallen short. That’s started to change. Last year, Sagan joined such riders as John Degenkolb and Marcel Kittel at Sierra Nevada, who were sharing space with other GC climbers.

Vila said the benefits of altitude training translate to the classics as well. He expects to see more riders heading to the high country in the coming weeks.

“Everyone said you are crazy to go to altitude and miss some of the early races, because it has never worked before,” Vila said. “I can guarantee you, there will be more classics riders up there this year.”