CASCINA, Italy (VN) — Peter Sagan, despite a second place in Tirreno-Adriatico on Thursday, is off to his worst start since stepping up to the big leagues in 2010. Even without any wins, team Tinkoff-Saxo remains confident in its newly-hired four-million-dollar cyclist.
“Second place,” Sagan said. “That’s better than third or fourth!”
The 25-year-old Slovak tried to inject a bit of humor into his placing behind Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal) in Tirreno-Adriatico stage 2, but his words were just the same as his 2015 results: limited.
Sagan is more show than substance lately. He played golf with his bike, pinched Alberto Contador on the backside while being photographed, and joked, instead of clearly explaining what he wants. Asked about what he hopes to achieve in Tirreno-Adriatico, he said with a laugh, “I want to win.”
Team manager Bjarne Riis was not laughing ahead of stage two in Camaiore, but trying to explain how the rider that Oleg Tinkov hired this winter for a reported $4 million — $12 million over three years — will be ready in time for the big classics. The first is only 10 days away, Milano-Sanremo on March 22, and they continue through Paris-Roubaix, April 19.
“We are still not in the classics,” Riis told VeloNews. “Other years, he has been better, winning earlier in the season, and maybe he missed a little in the classics. If he wins today or tomorrow, the story changes in a split second.”
In other years, Sagan won earlier. Besides this year, the longest he has ever gone before winning was in 2010, his first year in the WorldTour, when he raised his arms in victory on March 10 in Paris-Nice.
Immediately, Sagan became a headline name. He won in almost every stage race and took the points jerseys home, as well. Already in the Tour de France, he has three green jerseys and four stage wins.
In the classics, he shot to the top just as quickly. He placed fourth and fifth in Milano-Sanremo and the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2012, respectively, and returned to place second at both in 2013.
In 2014, as he searched for a new home, while Italy’s Cannondale team began to close shop, he faded. He was still the “Saganator,” pulling wheelies and trying to make fans and rivals laugh, but his punch was not as hard.
On his way to his third green jersey, he failed to win a Tour de France stage. His last win, not counting the national championship road race, was nine months ago in Tour de Suisse stage three.
“I think [a win in Tirreno-Adriatico],” Riis said, “would be ideal for his confidence.”
Behind the curtain, Riis and the team’s staff have been tinkering with Sagan’s position on his bike. They raised and lowered the saddle and put longer and shorter stems on it to try to make him feel “right” after a few crashes.
Time, however, does not appear on Sagan’s side. Rivals Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Niki Terpstra (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Ian Stannard (Sky) are already winning and appear more capable of pulling off a monument or classic victory in 2015.
“We all [want him to win a monument], but it’s cycling; it’s not always that easy,” Riis added. “I expect him to be up there in the big races, to compete against the best. The most important thing is that he’s good. That’s the first step to be able to win or to podium.”
Sagan could expand on his expectations, but as he said at the Tour of Qatar, again with a laugh, “The secret Bjarne gave me is to not to give interviews.”
The true answer may come in tomorrow’s stage to Arezzo, which kicks up for the final 900 meters and where Sagan won in 2014. If he is far off in the Tuscan city, he may not have a chance to win in Sanremo, Oudenaarde, or Roubaix.