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Sagan’s coach: ‘He still has a lot to win’

Peter Sagan's coach Patxi Vila explains what its like to coach the top cyclist of the era, says Sagan still hasn't reached peak.

There are dozens of people working behind the scenes at Bora-Hansgrohe as Peter Sagan makes his final preparation for the Ronde van Vlaanderen on Sunday. There are mechanics, soigneurs, chefs, sport directors, managers, teammates and press officers all dedicated to making Sagan’s life easier off the bike and more productive on it.

One of the key staffers helping Sagan is coach and director Patxi Vila. The 42-year-old former Spanish pro has been one of Sagan’s most trusted allies since they started working together at Tinkoff-Saxo. When Sagan switched to Bora-Hansgrohe in 2017, Vila was part of the move. Vila has helped Sagan win some of his biggest races. He also convinced the 28-year-old to integrate altitude camps into his preparation. Earlier this season, VeloNews sat down with Vila about what makes Sagan tick and how much further the Slovakian superstar can go.

VeloNews: How did you first start working with Sagan as a coach?

Patxi Vila: I stopped racing in 2012. I worked for two years for Specialized as performance manager. It was hard to make the decision to move from a nice big company, but I made that step with Tinkoff. I was sport director and coaching just two riders. Some things changed, and they proposed to me if I wanted to coach Peter and some other riders. You always need some luck in life. I was in the right place at the right time. Now it’s almost three years that we work together. It’s fantastic. It’s like having free access to a university.

VN: What’s it like working with Sagan day-in, day-out?

PV: We all agree that he is a special guy. To work with him, he is very critical of what he is doing. He is in the point of his career that he knows what is working and what is not working. As a rider, he is now grown up. Even though he is only 28, he already has so much experience. He will always ask why.

VN: What can you do to improve Sagan?

PV: He is still not at the top level as a rider. He is still going under an evolution. Even how he looks now. He is leaner, he is a bit lighter, and he has more muscles where he needs to. We have found the right formula to work, and we focus on three or four basic things. When he is the race, he is the reference in any race he starts. That means that every year we need to be a little better, in terms of tactics, in terms of training. There are small changes, but not big things.

Peter Sagan
Kristoff thought he was going to be a world champion with 150 meters to go, but Peter Sagan used his speed, power, and experience to get the best of the Norwegian right on the line. Photo: Jim Fryer / BrakeThrough Media | brakethroughmedia.com

VN: Sagan is so good, is there pressure not to mess it up?

PS: If something is working, you just don’t touch it too much. Nature made him. It’s about just taking out what is already there. You don’t have to build him up. He is the easiest guy to coach.

VN: Where do you see room for improvements for Sagan?

PV: You always try to get a little bit better. It’s not the right time for big changes. He is still improving almost every year. He is working on core training, flexibility, endurance, strength, sprinting. He is improving in every facet of what it is he needs to be a racer.

VN: So you don’t think he’s reached his peak?

PV: Nothing has told me he is at the top. There is still an evolution. In all the parameters, we are seeing improvements. If the day comes that we see it plateauing off, then we might have to make some changes.

VN: Does Sagan need much motivation?

PV: We don’t speak about it that much. He needs to keep winning, to keep challenging. He likes to race much more than training. Peter likes racing. That’s how he approaches the sport in general.

VN: How has becoming a father changed Sagan?

PV: I don’t know if it’s about being a father, or being one year older. I see him pretty relaxed now. He’s in a good mood. He’s more mature. The third world title was something that makes him relax a little bit. He is already part of cycling history.

VN: Sagan’s won three world titles and Flanders since you’ve worked together …

PV: No, it’s Peter who is doing everything. I do not like to credit for that. If it wasn’t me, it would be the same with someone else. He is a really damn good rider. We all work for the riders. It’s nice and I am proud of it. It’s a nice start of my coaching career. I could have never dreamed of this. It’s nice to help people achieve their dreams. I am just as proud of the bronze medal with [Rafal] Majka in the 2016 Olympics. [Maciej] Bodnar winning the time trial stage at the Tour last year was the most personally gratifying one. We worked so hard together, and when you see you are a tiny part of a guy whose dream came true. Peter is so good and wins so much, and I really like to help riders who can step up. We all work hard on the team. There’s not much time for a siesta.

Peter Sagan chased hard on the Taaienberg at kilometer 218. With only 36km left in the 2016 Tour of Flanders, he was tasked with reeling in the escapees. Photo: Iri Greco / BrakeThrough Media | www.brakethroughmedia.com

VN: How much more can Sagan achieve in the monuments?

PV: Even if he’s already won a lot, he still has a lot to win. He’s a legend for worlds, but not a legend yet for the classics. That is the priority. We are focused on that. If you look to the classics, he has not won a lot. He’s twice been second at Sanremo. It is like a lottery. Roubaix luck plays a bigger role than at Flanders. Roubaix is two hours and something of almost constant effort. Flanders is more up and down, and there is a bit of recovery. Flanders is just better for Peter when you look at his characteristics. Roubaix, you need good luck, and if you’re not on a great day, you’re never going to win. Peter likes racing the pavé. Those are the races he likes most.

VN: Will he ever seriously take on the Ardennes?

PV: Amstel and Flèche Wallonne are something he could almost do already. For Liège-Bastogne-Liège, we would need to change some stuff. You could be a contender already, but you cannot do them all. From Sanremo to Liège, there is no way you can do them all. It’s too long. Not for winning. You can start all of them. But if you are trying to win from Sanremo all the way to Liège, it’s just too much.

VN: Would you rank Sagan is one of the best racers in cycling history?

PV: It’s so hard to compare different eras in cycling. We almost all agree that Peter is the one who is bringing cycling to another level because he is a special rider. He is building up his palmares and he still has some time.