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DÜSSELDORF, Germany (CT) – He sits at the top of the room, a leader entertaining like a charismatic king. Resplendent in his world champion’s jersey, a white garment with brightly coloured rainbow bands, Peter Sagan is smiling and laughing and having a ball. Serious questions are batted away with witty one-liners, and a grin is seldom far from his face.
The Slovakian is in a good place. He’s one of the best-known riders in the sport and earning a multi-million euro salary, yet there is zero hint of pressure. He heads into the Tour de France relaxed with who, and where, he is.
There are expectations upon him to win, but he’s confident and relaxed enough not to worry. The legs are good. The head is right. Barring accident, the results will come.
Read on for a transcript of the press conference with the Bora-hansgrohe sprint leader. He’s starting the race as a seven-time stage victor and winner of the past five green jersey competitions. If things go to plan, he’ll add to both tallies during the event, and also further boost his popularity along the way.
Q: Peter, do you ever get used to this media attention?
Peter Sagan: Do you see me nervous?
[The room laughs].
When will you be bored targeting the green jersey in the Tour?
We will see. I will try to do my best to get another one. And next year get another one. After that maybe I am bored [room laughs again].
No, I don’t know. It is a very hard Tour de France. A crazy competition over 21 days. You have to be concentrated. It is not sure…I am here and to take the green jersey is a very hard thing. You have to fight from the first day until the last one.
It is important to be concentrated every day. It is hard and, for sure, not boring.
Who is your competition in the green jersey classification?
All the sprinters. Also some non-sprinters [he smiles]. I don’t know how the race is going, but after the first week can decide who is the biggest one. After the second week it could be different. We will see day by day.
Do you think that the Germans sprinters, Kittel and Greipel, will have the chance to take the jersey?
From the start, everybody has the chance. There is a lot of competition and a lot of riders in the Tour de France. Everything can happen. You can crash, you can have injury. You can do maybe a bad sprint from the start and the whole situation is different. For sure everybody is strong, for sure, in the Tour de France. We have to be focused all the time.
You are in a German team in Germany starting in the Tour. Is it a kind of special feeling for you?
Well, for sure it is very good for our team. For the sponsors and for the German cycling, I think. If you are racing in France, in Belgium or here in Germany, you have to still pedal and suffer on the bike. The race is the same.
‘I think the Tour de France will be a lot of fun’
Two years ago, Sagan started the race as a member of the Tinkoff team. He had been under pressure to achieve that season, due to a multi-million euro contract with the squad, a spate of near misses and also the demands of the volatile Russian team owner Oleg Tinkov.
He was clearly very strong but, as was the case one year before with Cannondale, he wasn’t quite able to land the win. In 2014 was second four times, third once and fourth on three occasions. In 2015 his tally was five runner-up slots, as well as three thirds and a pair of fourth-place finishes.
Things clicked last year, quite possibly due to his strong spring campaign. He went into the race under less pressure and quickly delivered, winning stage two and ultimately netting a hat-trick of victories.
Sagan has since moved to the Bora-hansgrohe team and has settled in win. While he missed out on the big Classic victory he was chasing this year, he has landed six wins thus far. Team manager Ralph Denk appears to take a far less manic approach to running the team than Tinkoff did, and has also said publicly that he trusts Sagan and doesn’t want to put extra pressure on him.
Sagan spoke about the environment in the conference, although he carefully avoided saying anything controversial about Tinkov. He also talked about his new roommate at the race, his brother Juraj, plus Erik Zabel’s record six career green jerseys.
You are here with a new team. How is the atmosphere different to this time last year?
Well, it is still good [smiles]. There is always the same atmosphere.
Is it any calmer than last year?
Well, we were a very good group in the Tour de France last year. This year I think we are a very good group. I think this Tour de France will be a lot of fun. That is important.
Is there a big difference between Ralph [Denk] and Tinkov?
Well, there is a difference… [room laughs]. No, I cannot complain about last year, and for sure I cannot complain this year. I am very happy in this team. Everything is okay. Perfect.
What does it feel like to have your brother by your side in this Tour de France?
I am very happy that he is making this debut. He confirmed his condition in the Slovak championships. He could come here in the Tour de France. For sure it is the first time for him and I am very happy to have somebody close from the family here in the race. It is very nice.
Do you think you can combine fighting for the green jersey and also helping Rafal for the GC. Is that possible?
Why not? If I could help Contador last year and the year before, I think yes, it is possible…
Do you think about the green record of Erik Zabel?
No, I don’t think about it. I am just going my way.
But is it interesting to beat, or do you not care?
Well, I am doing my career. I don’t think about other riders.
‘If you want too much, you can also lose a lot’
Prior to the start of the race, the website Velonews ran a story speculating about how many stages that the Slovakian could win. In looking at the parcours, the article listed those deemed potentially suited to his strengths. These were just over half the 21 stages in the event.
Sagan was asked about this, and if how his wife’s pregnancy had changed his outlook. He also spent more time kidding around, bigging up the chances of his teammate Majka in a humorous way and also shrugging off journalists’ attempts to pin down firm goals from him.
They say there are 11 stages that you can win this year. Can you win them all?
Why are you asking me always about the future? I don’t know. I will try to do my best. But for sure, it is like in life – if you want too much, you can also lose a lot. I am not hungry about everything, but for sure I want to do my best.
You will be a father. Does this change anything for you in your mentality, your motivation, your focus?
Well, for now I am very happy about this news. Everything is still not here, the baby. So it doesn’t change a lot for me. Maybe after in September, October, I will look at it differently. But for now it is still good.
[Pause] Well, I think it is always good [cue laughs from room]. I am very happy about that.
Rafal, can you talk about what is possible for you in this race?
Rafal Majka: We will try our best. We have a strong team. I am really happy with going for GC in the Tour de France. All the time I went, I went for the stage. This stage is a big different but I am not afraid. I did Giro and Vuelta, now it is the Tour. We will see what happens.
Peter Sagan: Why don’t you say you are in the best condition ever and you are going to take [everything]
Makja: I wanted to leave it a surprise [smiles].
Peter, are you in the best condition ever? Your training was saying ahead of the Classics that you were producing your most power ever.
Well, my answer is it is not about condition, it is about results. Everybody sees results, not how I feel.
Would you prefer a stage win or the green jersey?
But what would you prefer?
Both. [Room laughs]
[Pause] I prefer also to be one day in the white jersey. [more laughs]
I am getting old, guys…
Listen to the full Sagan conference here: