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The clock is ticking and Peter Sagan’s time with the Tinkoff-Saxo team is officially moving into a new phase. The Slovakian rider transferred to the team from previous squad Cannondale over the winter and, after training hard and getting to know his new team-mates, will finally affix a race number and make his competitive debut on Sunday.
“I raced in Qatar four years ago and that was the start of a great season,” said the three-time Tour de France green jersey winner, who hopes to make a Classics breakthrough this season. “I think it’s the right race for my official start in the Tinkoff-Saxo jersey. I look forward to start racing there.”
Sagan’s class has long been apparent but he has come up with several near misses in the top one day races. Those include runner-up slots in Milan-Sanremo, the Tour of Flanders and Strade Bianche, third in the Amstel Gold Race and sixth in Paris-Roubaix.
He has topped the podium in races such as Gent-Wevelgem, Brabantse Pijl, the GP Cycliste de Montréal and E3 Harelbeke, but a Monument win is still missing.
Sagan is now 25 years of age and thus reaching an age where he should have the strength and experience to step things up. He needs to; his move to Tinkoff-Saxo has led to an increased salary and greater expectations from others, not least the ambitions team owner Oleg Tinkoff.
In short, he’s being paid to win, and Tinkoff expects him to do so.
Qatar is the first chance of him to show off his new team strip and to try to open his account, but will also serve as a building block towards those one day races.
Directeur sportif Tristan Hoffman makes clear that he will get the full support he needs to show himself in the race.
“Peter Sagan is our team leader and we’ll support him 100 percent,” he said. “The Tour of Qatar is a special race for him and the team as it marks his debut for Tinkoff-Saxo. We have a very strong team, also taking into account the seriousness with which the guys have prepared.
“No doubt that Peter has a good chance in the fight for stage wins and the ten kilometre time trial also makes the GC quite interesting for us.”
The Slovakian will be backed up by Maciej Bodnar, Matti Breschel, Michael Mørkøv, Pavel Brutt, Christopher Juul-Jensen, Ivan Rovny and Nikolay Trusov.
They too may have the form to do something, but the main goal is to bolster Sagan’s prospects.
“Looking at our squad, I think we have a strong lead-out if a stage turns into a classic sprinter’s duel,” he said, noting that there will be five stages for the gallopers.
“All the guys are capable of setting a very high pace – and in especially Michael Mørkøv and Matti Breschel, who finished second overall in 2005, we have two really fast riders to do the lead-out for Peter.”
He realises that things won’t be as straightforward as waiting for the sprinters, however.
“There’s a high risk that the crosswinds will split up the peloton as Qatar is generally a quite windy race with long open stretches,” he said. “We have to ride the race from the front and act in the wind instead of reacting”.
The overall classification will depend on good performances on the flat stages, but also in the 10.9 kilometre time trial on stage three.
Providing the bunch stays together on the other stages, the final general classification will likely go to a rider who places well in the sprints and also fares well against the clock.
Hoffman notes that Sagan can do a very strong time trial, but chooses not to bank absolutely everything on hims.
“We need to keep our opportunities open. Maciej Bodnar is a three-time national TT champion and really strong against the clock. We’ll keep Breschel and Bodnar in a protective role for the first stages and see how everything plays out at the time trial.”
The race starts on Sunday with a 136 kilometre stage from Durkhan to Sealine Beach. It’ll be Sagan’s first day of competition in 2015 but, if the legs are good and the opportunity arises, he’ll seize the opportunity to show he means business.