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Peter Sagan and the rainbow jersey that got away: ‘I think I could have won in 2019’

Favorite status or not, Sagan hoping for revival in Wollongong: 'I never really had much pressure during the world championships.'

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Peter Sagan won three straight rainbow jerseys, but the Slovakian superstar laments one that got away.

In 2019, Sagan rode to fifth place in a result that he said doesn’t reflect the legs he brought to Yorkshire that year.

“I really wanted to win the world championships again in England,” Sagan told VeloNews. “But the race didn’t go how I was thinking it would. That was too bad.”

Sagan is often racing alone against the world during the UCI Road World Championships. With Slovakia bringing a small team, it’s often quite literally Sagan versus the world.

Instead, Sagan follows the wheels and follows his instinct, a strategy that delivered a record three consecutive world titles from 2015-2017.

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Sagan says he never felt pressure to win, but he packed secret ambitions to Yorkshire with hopes of becoming cycling’s first elite men’s four-time world champion.

In Yorkshire, however, Sagan was caught out in no man’s land between attacking riders that brought home the victory and a lead chasing group.

Racing in cold and wet conditions, Sagan tried to close the gap but it was too late. He crossed the line in fifth at 43 seconds back.

“I was very strong there in Yorkshire, but the race went a different way than I thought,” Sagan said. “It’s about following the wheels and then see how the legs feel in the finale.

“We don’t have a big nation that we can control the race, so it’s more about me and what I decide to do in the race,” Sagan said. “There is no real strategy.”

Heading to Wollongong without pressure

Illness torpedoed Sagan’s chances in Canada. (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

Sagan traveled directly from Montréal to Wollongong to prepare for his 12th career elite men’s road race. With his debut in 2010, he’s raced every year except in 2020, when he was out with illness.

“We want to stay there early with the 14-hour time difference. It’s better to get there early and get used to the conditions,” Sagan told VeloNews. “It’s also different weather than we are used to.

“I want to see the circuit in Wollongong,” he said. “Everyone was talking that it was easy, and that it was going to be for sprinters. When I saw the profile, I thought, well, it could be pretty hard. After I see the circuit I will decide the tactic.”

Sagan, 32, suffered during the Canadian one-day WorldTour races with a bad stomach, and did not finish in Québec or Montréal. He’ll be hoping to be back in good health in time for a run at another rainbow jersey.

With all eyes on Wout van Aert and Michael Matthews as pre-race favorites, Sagan won’t have much pressure on him to perform.

Yet he countered that he never had pressure during the worlds.

“I never really had much pressure during the world championships,” he told VeloNews.

“I never had that much pressure like everyone thinks,” he said. “When I won the first world championship, I said, what is pressure? Then I won the second and third.

“With the worlds you never know,” Sagan said. “The circuit looks hard, but a lot depends on how the race unfolds. It really comes down to the day of the race and how the legs are feeling.”

Sagan on Utah and e-bikes fueling new passions

Peter Sagan is back in the winner’s circle at the Tour de Suisse this summer. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Sagan spent a good chunk of 2022 in Utah as he searched out good weather, altitude, and a chance to fully recover from bouts of COVID-19.

“I went straight to Utah after the Tour de France because I like it,” he said. “I went to altitude and did some holiday training with the mountain bike. I enjoy some time with my brother and some friends. Then went also to see the Grand Canyon and stuff like that.”

After returning to Europe for some events in August, he returned to Park City ahead of the Canadian races.

Sagan also reconnected with his mountain biking roots with a trip to the recent e-bike world championships in the French Alps. Despite crashing twice in wet conditions, he finished 16th.

“It was a lot of fun that race, and I was happy to do that race. It was a fun experience, and met a lot of people from mountain biking at Les Gets,” he said. “It started to rain during the race, and it was like turning back the time in mountain biking. E-bike might look easy, but it is not. You need good condition.”

When asked if he would race mountain bike or road racing in the next Olympics, Sagan just shrugged: “There is still a lot of time to think.”

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.