Sagan races to Tour de France under team pressure

After winning in California, Peter Sagan will try to keep it going at the Tour de Suisse as he preps for the Tour de France

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MILAN (VN) — Alberto Contador did it. It is now Peter Sagan’s turn to prove to Tinkoff-Saxo team owner Oleg Tinkov that he is worth every euro he is paid.

The Slovak cycling star returns to action in the Tour de Suisse this weekend as he builds toward the ultimate test, the Tour de France. After a frustrating season, Sagan will have to show he can still win at the top and that he is worth his wage.

Over the winter, Sagan signed with Tinkoff-Saxo for an estimated 4 million euros ($4.5m) a year over three years. With it came added pressure, under which Sagan appeared to crumble.

When asked about Sagan’s top-shelf contract, Tinkov told VeloNews, “I won’t make that mistake again.”

Sagan just returned from the U.S. where he won two stages and the overall classification at the Amgen Tour of California. That was not enough for Tinkov, who is paying for much larger trophies.

When Sagan rocketed into cycling in 2010, it appeared he would quickly win some of the major classics. He came the closest with former team Liquigas/Cannondale, as he finished second in both Milano-Sanremo and the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) in 2013.

Since then, Sagan has been off the mark in the classics. The situation on the Tinkoff team looked the worst this spring in the E3 Harelbeke. Rivals Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quick-Step) accelerated, and Sagan faded. Instead of holding off the group for third place, he drifted to 30th overall.

Two days later, Tinkov fired team manager and former owner Bjarne Riis because he said he was not doing his job. Even if the riders did not say so, the message must have been one of fear: perform, or else.

Contador, who extended his contract through 2016 in March, performed last month in the Giro d’Italia. He took hold of the pink jersey in stage 5, defended it despite a dislocated shoulder, lost it for a day in stage 13, and underlined his supremacy when he danced away from his rivals on the Mortirolo en route to a seventh grand tour title.

He will now take aim at the Tour de France, where the expectation is that Sagan will win stages and perhaps take a fourth green points jersey. The Tour de Suisse, June 13-21, will prepare him for his goal.

“It’s a matter of keeping momentum,” Tinkoff-Saxo sport director Sean Yates said in a press release.

“Peter Sagan will get the backing of the team in Tour de Suisse. We would like to win a stage or more if possible. We’re looking to keep the momentum we had in May, while focusing on the build-up towards the Tour.”

Sagan, of course, will not say much about his contract. He told journalists in California that if he wants to talk about it, he will speak to Tinkov directly.

Tinkov, however, has not shied away from saying he is unhappy.

“The problem in cycling is that it’s not easy to cut someone’s salary,” Tinkov told Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper in May.

“When the cyclists win, they want more money, but we don’t see the reverse of that. If I find some legal way, I want to reduce his pay. Riders should have raises with good results and cuts if they don’t, you don’t sign a three-year deal and then don’t bring in results.”

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.