It’s going to feel very different in the professional peloton next year seeing Peter Sagan riding for any other team than BORA-Hansgrohe. He’s become synonymous with the team’s Specialized bikes and has proudly displayed his sponsors in more victory salutes than we can count. After his successful stint with the German outfit, it’s time for a new chapter in the Slovakian rider’s career with the French second division squad, Team TotalEnergies. Could this change be exactly what he needs to return to the dominance of old?
Sagan will always be considered one of the sport’s greatest talents, he made history in modern cycling by winning the world championships three years in a row, this is among 12 Tour de France stage wins and 7 victories in the green jersey competition. In his most successful years, you would rarely count the BORA rider out if he came towards the line in the right position. He can perform on a plethora of terrain, taking victories in bunch sprints, in the Classics and excelling in any sort of rolling ground in between.
Sagan wins 2017 Road World Championships, image: Christopher Lanaway/SWpix
His wins in the points classification at the Tour de France highlight this versatility: no other competition rewards riders more for mixing mass-sprint podiums with intermediate sprints on hilly parcour. With first place in Paris-Roubaix, Flanders and Gent Wevelgem, there’s little more that the Slovakian national champion could add to his palmares.
Sagan’s physical ability is one thing, but part of what makes his entry into the top of the sport so memorable was the style and attitude he brought with him. Hailed as “cycling’s saviour” by none other than Bradley Wiggins, Sagan provided entertainment for the masses at a time when cycling especially needed it, awash with drama about Team Sky’s TUE scandals. Peter Sagan became cycling’s rockstar, his relaxed demeanour and casual reaction to his success making him all the more likable. Often celebrating with bunny-hops and wheelies, his wins added a new flavour to the sport as it was rapidly in danger of turning sour.
Image: BrakeThrough Media
The Slovakian possesses incredible technical skills, helped by his grounding in mountain biking. Many of his wins in earlier years came in part from his supreme descending prowess, it was the kind of riding that gave those of us watching at home sweaty palms and no doubt spooked the riders on his wheel. In his first Grand Tour appearance, the Vuelta a Espana in 2011, Sagan won three stages, causing a split on the final descent in stage 6 by putting himself in the most aerodynamic tuck possible, and taking some fierce lines around the corners. Behind, most of the peloton could only watch on, in awe of this superstar mountain-biker that was breaking all the rules on the road racing scene.
But such dominance has to come to an end eventually, and it could be said that Sagan’s ended after the 2019 season. He’d won the green jersey at the Tour that year, and secured a stage win, as well as finishing 4th in Milan Sanremo. In 2020, though, he took just one win: the Giro d’Italia stage 10, finishing solo, 19 seconds ahead of the rider in second place.
By most standards, a win in a Giro stage would complete an entire season. Victory in a Grand Tour is supremely difficult and could secure a contract for the next year and beyond. Plus, Sagan had multiple top 10 finishes in previous races, an indication that he was still in his usual strong form. However, once you have the track record he does, it becomes increasingly difficult to not hold Sagan to a higher standard. A win at the Giro is, of course, a commendable result, but the Slovakian’s unmatched past successes have made things hard for him. He’ll constantly be compared to those golden days.
Sagan wins Giro d'Italia 2021 stage 10, image: CorVos/SWpix.com
This season so far, Sagan has won a stage at the Giro and had 6 top 5 finishes in Grand Tour stages, as well as two stage wins at lower level races. He’s still up there with the best, fighting at the finish, but the top step so often alludes him. It could be argued that with some more organisation from BORA Hansgrohe, some of these podiums could have been first place. Ide Schelling, for example, rode emphatically for polka dot jersey points at the Tour – a commendable assault of the race in his first attempt – but he is an example of a valuable rider who might have helped position Sagan for the sprint finales. Instead, his energy was used scrapping for mountain points that gave little reward in the end.
BORA have often been seen investing in GC talents rather than building a team around Sagan who might have been able to help him in the Classics, races well-suited to his strengths. The three-time world champion leaves the team on good terms, though, so we’re told. "Change is part of life," Sagan said when announcing his departure. "We have come to the conclusion that it is better to start a new chapter."
Could it be that this switch to Team TotalEnergies is exactly what Sagan needs to return to the success of his previous seasons? Seasons where the norm was ten wins on the WorldTour stage each year, rather than one. He clearly still has the strength to be there in the finals, and he certainly has the tactical ability. The missing pieces of the puzzle might be a team which will fully support him, a fresh start and a new motivation.Image: Timm Kölln
When the announcement came that his move was official, Sagan explained that TotalEnergies team manager Jean-René Bernaudeau, had told him he could just have "fun", something that resonated with the three-time world champion.
"This new adventure is very exciting," he said in an announcement by his new team. "Jean-René is a manager who wants to change the lines in the world of cycling, I hope to be able to help this team to achieve it." With a relaxed racing environment on the cards, it seems like it could be the perfect space for Sagan to return to his best. It's a step down from WorldTour level, but the team has big plans for the future, and see their signing of Sagan as a crucial step up in the cycling world.
"The arrival of such a champion is an accelerator for our sporting project, it is a new attraction for the talents of tomorrow," said Bernaudeau.
Sagan takes with him his most trusted friends and domestiques from his previous team: Maciej Bodnar and Daniel Oss, as well as the sponsorship of Sportful and Specialized. It was reported that the Slovakian commanded one of the biggest salaries in the WorldTour while BORA Hansgrohe, along with his significant entourage of staff and riders. Team TotalEnergies will have certainly had to dig deep in their pockets to secure Sagan's signature.
It’s difficult to say if Sagan will win big again with his new team, or if this will mark the steady path to retirement. Either way, he has made a lasting impact as one of the most influential riders in cycling history. His engagement with fans and maverick racing style made many people fall in love with racing once more when the sport was descending into a dark place. He can only look back on his time with BORA Hansgrohe with positive thoughts, he revolutionised the sport when riding for the team.
We'll eagerly wait and see what comes next for Sagan. Will this next move be the closing chapter, or the start of an entirely new story?