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One of the most talked-about transfers of the 2022 season has been that of Peter Sagan from Germany’s UCI WorldTour team BORA-Hansgrohe to the second-tier French squad TotalEnergies. Thousands of words have been written on whether the move will prove judicious for the three-time world champion or if TotalEnergies will get sufficient payback from such a high-profile transfer. But one thing is clear, there have been no questions about the transfer between Sagan and his new team. And as we spent a week with the team’s staff and riders at their January training camp in Calpe, Spain, the mood was visibly high.
Already, late last year, Sagan visited the team’s service course—set in a historic manor house in the French Vendée region—before participating in the pre-season and January camps. “The service course is in this wonderful old house [where] we grilled steak over the open fireplace in the kitchen,” Sagan said at the Calpe hotel before dinner one night. “It’s a living place and was really wonderful. Everybody has made me feel welcome. I don’t know all the guys on the team yet, but a lot of them have come up and spoken to me in English, which really helps. It is easier to adapt. They are really taking me in the group. There is a real family spirit here. You know, with some teams, the riders all sit at one table and the staff at another. But here everybody sits with whoever they want. It’s really like we are one team, not separate groups. That’s really nice. I feel a different atmosphere here than with a lot of other teams.”
Sagan, of course, did not arrive at the team alone. It was important for him to bring along his inner circle: his massage therapist, mechanic, team director, press officer and teammates Daniel Oss, Maciej Bodnar and his brother Juraj Sagan. Longtime industry partners Specialized and 100% were also essential. For some teams, integrating such a large group simply did not work. But for TotalEnergies the fusion was perfect because the team is growing and has its sights set on a place in the WorldTour.
“The atmosphere is great,” said Ján Valach, Sagan’s longtime sports director, over breakfast one morning. “People are relaxed but very focused. You really feel that the team has been together a long time and that there are really solid foundations. Everybody just knows what they have to do, and they do it. I have only been with the team for a short time but there is nothing that jumps out at me as a problem. I feel like we jumped on a good train, and I hope that we can take them to the next level.”
Sagan’s personal mechanic Mindaugas Goncaras agreed. “I have a very good impression,” he said as he was building one of the team’s new S-Works Tarmac SL7 bikes that the team will ride this year. “The mechanics are really good, and you feel like you are coming to a family here. I have spent a lot of time teaching them about the new bikes, but everybody knows how to work hard and have fun. Sure, we have the language barrier because I don’t speak French and a lot of guys don’t speak English, but even without language, I feel very much that everyone respects me.”
By all accounts, the feelings are mutual from within this French squad that been around for more than two decades. The team’s founder and longtime manager, Jean-René Bernaudeau, is elated. “I am really impressed with the whole team around Peter,” he said. “They are all brilliant in their own way—everyone from his soigneur to his mechanic to riders like Oss and Bodnar. Peter really managed to surround himself with a tremendous group of people. And that is so important. The sport of cycling is harder and harder, and you really have to work with confidence. And I can tell you that everyone here on the team already has been very impressed by Peter’s entourage.”
But while the mood is upbeat, there have been hiccups as 2022 kicks off. Sagan was not planning on getting a second bout of Covid on the first day of the new year. And he was looking forward to returning to Argentina later in the month to kick start his season at the Vuelta a San Juan, as he has done in year’s past. But only days after he got sick, the South American race was canceled for international riders. So, quickly, the 31-year-old and his team had to come up with unexpected alternatives.
For sure, Sagan was frustrated; but in keeping with his “Why So Serious” motto, he has remained relaxed. “I got Covid for the first time last year on January 26 and then I got it this year on January 1, so I have to be positive, [and] getting it earlier gives me more time to recover before the season. But everything has changed and everything is going to change. We will see for how long. It is difficult for everyone. You plan something and spend time preparing for something and from one day to the next it all goes up kaboom!”
Since arriving at the camp on January 17, Sagan has ridden for at least three and a half hours every day. From southeast Spain he plans to go directly to the Canary Islands with just his brother, soigneur and sport director for a three-week, even more intensive training camp, to build his base miles and hone his condition before the first race, the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var near his home in Monaco. Sagan’s objective is clear, to hit peak condition for the spring classics.
It’s said that bicycle racing is often more about reacting to the moves of others than initiating one’s own. And that’s true before the event as well as in the race itself. It’s still unknown how Sagan, like so many other riders and teams, will navigate another season compromised by Covid. But it’s clear that everyone at TotalEnergies is experienced in adapting to unforeseen challenges. In fact, at Calpe, there has been little talk about the problems Covid has posed, simply a steadfast focus on the season to come, one that all see as filled with potential.
In many ways, Sagan and Bernaudeau are a perfect match. Both are originals and both prefer inspired racing as opposed to the calculated styles of many teams. “On a human level I think we really understand each other,” Bernaudeau said. “I know other teams were interested in Peter, but I really stressed with him the need to take pleasure in working together. I know how hard this sport is, but we still need to take pleasure and be passionate in what we are doing. And if we do, then results will come. We have always been a team that rides with their instincts and Peter is very much a rider like that. I read his book [“My World”] and was impressed, because he too stresses the need to have fun and enjoy what you are doing, that you make the most out of life. He talks about his different victories and how 100 victories is like 100 different stories. That really touched me.”
According to Bernaudeau, there was no talk about specific goals or races to win, but rather to simply help take the team higher. “Jean-René told me that he wanted me to have fun on the team. Nobody ever said that to me before,” Sagan said. “There are a lot of good riders on the team, but no stress. I know that one of my reasons for being here is to help the team get to the next level. I already did it once with BORA and I hope to do it again. It’s exciting. We’re going to have a lot of fun and that is the best way to get results. There are a lot of good riders. Guys like Anthony Turgis have real potential. And I am happy to bring brands like 100% and Specialized. That way we have the very best material. And after that there are no excuses!”