Peter Sagan is probably not one to paraphrase Mark Twain, but as more and more people suggest he is past his best and even perhaps contemplating retirement, he has shrugged off reports of his decline, with Cyclingnews understanding that he has plans to race until at least 2024.
Sagan turns 31 in January and will start his 12th season in 2021 – and his fifth for Bora-Hansgrohe. Back in 2010, when Sagan was just 20 and in his first season at WorldTour level with Liquigas, he won two stages at Paris-Nice, distancing some big-name rivals and overall contenders in both finishes. He went on to win two stages at the Amgen Tour of California and take a haul of other placings, with his success, bike skills and likeable, standout character rapidly making him the biggest personality and one of the highest-paid riders in the peloton.
He went on to win a hat-trick of road-race world titles in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the Tour of Flanders in 2016, Paris-Roubaix in 2018, Gent-Wevelgem in 2013, 2016 and 2018, 12 stages at the Tour de France, seven points jersey competitions and a huge haul of other races.
In contrast, Sagan won just one race in 2020: a stage at the Giro d'Italia to Tortoreto, after going on the attack to make sure that rival Arnaud Démare (Groupama–FDJ), and anyone else, wouldn't beat him in the sprint.
It is only fair to point out that Sagan also finished second on four other stages at the Giro d'Italia, was in the top five at the Tour de France on six stages and was second in the points competition in both Grand Tours this year, which he rode back to back instead of riding the rescheduled Classics in October.
Those results would be career-defining for most riders, and leave them one of the most sought-after signings for the future. However, Sagan's success in the last decade has raised everyone's expectations sky high, with his 2020 lack of success exaggerating reports of a demise.
Sagan was the first to not believe the hype during the peak years of his success, and so he shrugs off any doubts and concerns about his 2020 results.
"The season was what it was – it went as it went. I'm happy," he recently told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"I had a lot of top-five placings, and I was second so many times, by a hair's breadth. I only needed a bit of luck to perhaps win, so I can't complain. I race primarily for myself, and if I'm happy with how I perform, then everything is OK."
'I'm happy to be in cycling for now'
Some see Sagan's refusal to accept that he could be past his best and slowly fading away as a further weakness; a sign he no longer cares about winning and that he no longer has the motivation and the hunger to fight with a new generation of Classics riders such as Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Alpecin-Fenix's Mathieu van der Poel, who are starting to dominate the sport.
Sagan always minimises defeat, but, in truth, he still gets angry on the big occasions. He has never won Milan-San Remo and each time he has been close, he finished angrily, venting his disappointment on the team bus and knowing he had missed a chance of an important victory. He showed similar sentiment at the 2019 World Championships in Harrogate, when he was in great form, but missed the decisive breakaway that allowed Dane Mads Pedersen to go on and win the rainbow jersey.
The fire still burns inside Sagan; he is perhaps just not that interested in showing it.
Indeed, if Sagan is tired of anything, it is everything that comes with professional road racing, and not the racing itself: the media obligations, the sponsor events and the clamour from people who constantly want a piece of him.
He has never turned up to a training camp overweight or to a race unfit. He's always competitive, even if he was lacking a little top-end speed and support in 2020. He still enjoys spending time in the saddle, he still loves riding and racing, and would just love to get on with that for the years to come.
"I'll be around until people break my balls too much about my plans for the future…" Sagan joked, at least in part, to La Gazzetta dello Sport when asked about his long-term plans for the future.
"All my life is built around cycling, so I've no plans to leave the sport just yet. I'm happy to be in cycling for now. I haven't really thought about questions like that yet because starting to think about a different future can be very dangerous. It can grow and grow, so it's best not think about the future, and just see what happens."
Future beyond Bora-Hansgrohe and 2021
Where it began: Sagan winning stage 3 of the 2010 Paris-Nice, more than a decade ago (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
After spending much of his off-season quietly with family and friends in Slovakia, Sagan is back in Monaco to begin his base training for the 2021 season. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bora-Hansgrohe are not expected to get together for a training camp until January.
Sagan's contract with Bora-Hansgrohe ends next year, and so, in theory, 2021 could be his final season in the German team's green, white and black colours.
There is a chance that their five-year spell together could continue, but there's also a growing sense that Sagan could opt to move on, and that Bora-Hansgrohe simply no longer need him. He has been part of Bora-Hansgrohe since 2017, with his presence and success helping team manager Ralph Denk build one of the best teams in the WorldTour.
In the early years, Sagan's success and charisma carried the team, with Rafal Majka the only other team leader, and Sam Bennett helping with the win tally in minor sprints. In recent years, Pascal Ackermann, Maximilian Schachmann and Emanuel Buchmann have all stepped up and produced significant performances, broadening Bora-Hansgrohe's talents and evolving their strategy.
Ackermann is now one of the world's best sprinters and won eight times, even during the disrupted 2020 season. Schachmann won Paris-Nice, with help from Sagan, but appears to have a talent for the hilly Classics. Buchmann was fourth in the 2019 Tour de France, sparking the first suggestions within Bora-Hansgrohe that the team has grown to be much bigger than Team Sagan.
The team has also helped Leonard Kämna get his career back on track and impress at the Tour de France, and Bora have signed Nils Politt for 2021. The 26-year-old German was second at last year's Paris-Roubaix, has shown convincing consistency in the Classics, and will no doubt share leadership in the Classics with Sagan.
Majka has moved on to UAE Team Emirates, Oscar Gatto has retired and the contracts of Maciej Bodnar, Daniel Oss and Juraj Sagan all end after the 2021 season. Last winter Davide Formolo, Sam Bennett and, more importantly, Sagan's coach and trusted directeur sportif Patxi Vila moved on.
Sagan and Bora-Hansgrohe have created some great memories together, but nothing lasts forever, especially in a professional sport like cycling, where contracts are short and change is frequent.
Even team manager Ralph Denk has admitted as much when asked about Sagan's future and the value of his estimated €5 million per season contract. With other major contracts to pay, he seems unwilling to invest massively in Sagan.
"We're going to check that out at the end of this cycling year. Sagan is one of the most expensive cyclists out there," Denk was reported saying in the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper.
Sagan's agent, Giovanni Lombardi, refused to speculate on the future of his star rider, simply telling Cyclingnews that he is working on securing Sagan's next contract.
Whatever that means, Sagan will be the biggest rider on the market for the 2022 season, probably sparking strategic changes and sponsor shifts, with Specialized and others likely to stay loyal to Sagan.
After a decade of intense road racing, it is possible Sagan would like to find new goals, and so perhaps create his own alternative calendar of racing. He first emerged via mountain biking, winning the junior cross-country race at the 2008 World
Championships and taking silver at the 2008 Junior Cyclo-cross World Championships.
It would be easy to see Sagan mix a road-racing programme with mountain bike events, gravel racing and more. He would still target the Classics and the green jersey at the Tour de France, but perhaps take on Van Aert and Van der Poel at their own game.
That could offer Sagan extra motivation in the final years of his career, and spark a thrilling rivalry between the biggest stars of the sport.