At age 31, after suffering from Covid-19 in early February and with his Bora-Hansgrohe team apparently looking to dump him to use his 5 million euro salary to groom promising young racers, you could think that Peter Sagan’s confidence might be suffering a bit.
After all, 2020 was not a good year for him. Perhaps because the Covid-19 epidemic disrupted training and racing schedules, he never looked like his usual dominating self and scored only one victory all year, a stage of the Giro d’Italia. That mediocre showing might have been one reason his team manager Ralph Denk suggested that the Slovak, widely considered one of the greatest road racers of all time, could be in the autumn of his career.
But autumn often has very warm days and the season’s apples and pears can be quite sweet. If his early 2021 form is anything to go by, Sagan’s autumn may be an extended Indian summer, with lots of days in the sun to come.
After his illness forced Sagan to skip the Opening Weekend of races in Belgium at the end of February, Sagan made his 2021 debut on March 10 at the difficult and hilly Tirreno-Adriatico 7-day stage race and finished 130th, more than 1hr 7min behind winner Tadej Pogačar.
Next up, on March 20, was the one-day Milan-San Remo. Sagan finished an excellent fourth, in the same time as winner Jasper Stuyven and just ahead of Mathieu Van der Poel, who is in top form. The average speed for the 299km race was just over 45 km/hr, a decent pace for a fading racer.
— Peter Sagan (@petosagan) April 20, 2021
That showing suggested that Sagan was close to his first win of the year, and it came one week later, in the sixth stage of the Volta a Catalunya. The stage was run over the kind of hills he has dominated in the past, and his victory over Israel Start-Up Nation’s Daryl Impey and Juan Sebastián Molano of UAE-Team Emirates looked very comfortable. If nothing else, Sagan has already matched his win total from last year.
“I’m happy with this victory,” Sagan commented on his website. “It’s a good start to the season, especially after what I went through the two months before coming here. It wasn’t an easy period, but it looks nice now.”
He also finished tied for second with Thomas de Gendt of Lotto-Soudal in the points classification, just 3 points behind the winner, Esteban Chaves of Team BikeExchange.
The difficult one-day Tour of Flanders was the next test, on April 4. Sagan finished a very creditable 15th, just 2min 15sec behind the surprise winner, Kasper Asgreen of Deceuninck-Quick Step (which, according to L’Equipe, will be Sagan’s team next year).
After a very busy month of racing, Sagan will take three weeks off and tackle the testing five-stage Tour de Romandie, beginning on April 27. Six days after it ends, it’s on to the Giro d’Italia.
Based on how Sagan has raced so far this year – and barring a serious setback – it’s not too much to expect him to win at least one stage on the Giro, which he will use to prepare for the Tour de France and a possible record eighth green jersey win.
Does he have a chance? In a word, yes.