Gravel riding with the world champ: Sagan talks dirt fondo and more

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While races like the Giro d’Italia and Tour de Yorkshire take place over the coming weekend, the biggest star of the sport will be pinning on a number for a different type of event — a gran fondo, held on gravel roads at high altitude.

World champion Peter Sagan will be the marquee rider of his namesake event in Truckee, California, near Lake Tahoe, the first of two planned Sagan Fondos in California this year. A second Sagan Fondo event is scheduled for early November in Northern California, though the location has not yet been announced.

The Truckee Dirt Edition, held Saturday, will be 60% dirt, 40% paved, with a long route (109km), a medium route (87km), and a non-timed route of 37km. The top three men and top three women for the day will be recognized in various age groups for the long course, dubbed Peter’s Boneyard, and the medium course, titled Dirt Grinder. Over 500 riders have registered.

The event is sponsored by Specialized, the City of Truckee, 100%, Sportful, Lagunitas Brewing Company, and Osmo Nutrition.

A fundraising gala dinner held Thursday night featured Olympic Gold medalist freestyle skier Jonny Moseley, with proceeds going to Adventure Risk Challenge, a Truckee-based nonprofit with the mission of “empowering underserved youth through integrated literacy and wilderness experiences.”

Due to the technical nature of the rugged course, race organizer Bike Monkey recommends cyclocross or gravel bikes with a minimum of 38mm tires, or hardtail mountain bikes with 2-inch tires; Sagan will be riding a Specialized Diverge gravel bike with 38mm Specialized Trigger Pro gravel tires. His drivetrain setup features modified Dura-Ace Di2 with a 1x-specific chainring, an XTR cassette, and an XTR Di2 rear derailleur. The bike also features a Specialized Command Post XCP carbon-fiber dropper post with just 35mm of travel.

Sagan will be joined by Bora-Hansgrohe teammates Daniel Oss, Michael Kolar, Maciej Bodnar, and brother Juraj Sagan — all in the Golden State for the Amgen Tour of California, which begins in Long Beach on May 13. The Amgen Tour plays a special role in Sagan’s career — he’s competed there for eight consecutive years (every year he’s been a professional), he won the overall in 2015, and he holds the record for stage wins with 16. His annual pre-race altitude camp in Truckee inspired this weekend’s event.

Donner Lake near Truckee, California.

CyclingTips reached out to Truckee resident Katerina Nash to chat with Sagan before and after the event. Like Sagan, Nash has excelled in mountain-bike and cyclocross racing; both have medaled at the cyclocross world championships, both have competed in mountain biking at the Olympics. Her fluency in Czech — not the same language as Slovakian, but not entirely different — was an added bonus.

Asked about his motivation for putting his name behind a pair of California gran fondos, held six months apart and in different parts of the state, Sagan explained it was a simple way to interact with his fans.

“I think the motivation is to say thank you to all my supporters,” he said. “If we can do an event with the people, that’s nice for me, and also for the people who support me. It’s the same reason singers are doing concerts, live — it’s for the people, to be in contact with their supporters. It’s a nice thing. I’m training here in Lake Tahoe every year, and there’s a story about me, people can see where I’m training.”

Sagan explained his reasoning behind a gravel event — perhaps a bit unusual for a three-time road world champion.

“I started with the mountain bike, and I always thought I wanted to be a mountain biker, not a road biker, but my destiny changed, and now I’m here as a road biker,” he said. “I tried mountain biking at the Olympic Games, to see what I could do, and now we have two gran fondos — one on gravel, one on road — which are some of the characteristics of my personality. I’m not just a road biker.”

Asked whether he spends much time training on gravel roads, Sagan explained that it really comes down to an affinity for riding off-road, on dirt of all kinds.

“I was training a lot in years before in Colorado and there were a lot of gravel roads, climbs and descents,” he said. “Now I am training in Park City, and there is a lot of mountain biking there, which I prefer to gravel riding. I travel with my mountain bike. It’s good for race preparation, you use much more of your body on the mountain bike. It’s good to activate different muscles, and it’s also good to have fun on the mountain bike — time passes differently on the mountain bike.”


CyclingTips is a media partner with Sagan Fondo. For more, visit saganfondo.com. Check back soon for an extensive, exclusive interview with the three-time world champion.

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