NICE, France (VN) — Where will world champion Peter Sagan race in 2017?
With Oleg Tinkov pulling up stakes, the future of Sagan and everyone else on the Tinkoff team is up in the air. Sagan still has one year remaining with the three-year deal he signed with Tinkov in 2015, but if the Russian cannot find a new sponsor to take over the team or an investor to buy the squad’s WorldTour racing license, Sagan will need a new home.
As one of the peloton’s most prolific riders, Sagan will race in 2017, there’s no doubt about that. The question is where.
Money and Sagan’s perceived value will be key factors. Tinkov signed Sagan for an estimated 4 million euros per season (even admitting he paid too much), and that’s a figure some say the Slovak will have a hard time equaling in today’s pinched marketplace. Only four or five teams in the elite peloton even have the purse to consider Sagan’s asking price. Unless he finally wins a monument in the next few weeks in the rainbow jersey (which would spike his value), some think Sagan’s asking price will have to come down.
Either way, Sagan won’t come cheap and he will want at least a two-year deal, shrinking the list of would-be suitors dramatically. Sagan will also want a team that will support in his quest for the classics, with riders and staff to support him. That means the list of would-be teams could be whittled down to a half-dozen major teams with the economic base and sporting structure to attract a rider of Sagan’s caliber.
VeloNews mined the peloton at Paris-Nice to get a sense of where Sagan might go. Here are a few of the scenarios:
Tinkoff general manager Stefano Feltrin is trying to find new sponsors to take over the team after Tinkov and his Tinkoff Bank pull stakes at the end of this season. Apparently, Sagan and Rafal Majka are the only riders with a contract beyond 2016, so no one will be waiting too long. If there’s not a firm commitment in place going into the Giro d’Italia, riders will start to make deals on the side to secure their future, and that’s certainly true for Sagan. Any rider fears being left in the lurch by a promised sponsorship deal that doesn’t come through. The next four weeks are critical to see if Feltrin can pull together something to keep the team afloat for 2017. If he cobbles something together, Sagan stays. If not, the Sagan sweepstakes start in earnest.
Etixx – Quick-Step
The Belgian classics super team takes the pole position and would be a natural choice for Sagan. The team’s classics tradition and multi-pronged attack might actually benefit Sagan because he wouldn’t have the entire weight of the team on his shoulders. Team owner Zdenek Bakala is one of cycling’s few billionaires, but the Czech businessman isn’t foolish with his checkbook. The key name here is Tom Boonen. If Boonen stays, Sagan might not fit. But if Boonen retires, or perhaps only rides through next year’s spring classics campaign, Sagan would be too tempting for Etixx to pass up on.
The other big classics rider on the market for 2017 will be Greg Avermaet. The veteran Belgian is coming into his own (beating Sagan on Monday at Tirreno-Adriatico) and will be one of the top riders to sign, especially if he wins a big one next month. Van Avermaet has been linked to Etixx as well, but sources say he’s happy at BMC and isn’t keen to move to another team. Philippe Gilbert is more likely to exit, but if Van Avermaet stays, it’s unlikely BMC would sign Sagan.
Team Sky has never won a major one-day classic, and it could prove irresistible for the UK-registered squad to make a play for Sagan. The decision by Geraint Thomas to focus on stage racing (he will only race Ronde van Vlaanderen this spring) leaves a hole in the team’s roster for the northern classics. Ian Stannard is improving, but the addition of Sagan would be a massive coup for the team that’s in danger of becoming a lopsided operation with major success in only the grand tours. Sky has the biggest budget in the peloton, so money wouldn’t be the issue. Sky typically likes to sign promising but underperforming riders who don’t pack the ego and demands of an established star — which means Sagan might not be the ideal fit for the Sky system.
Trek – Segafredo
The retirement of Fabian Cancellara would make the U.S.-registered team a logical fit for Sagan. Cancellara’s exit will free up millions of dollars in contract money, and Sagan could be the natural successor to “Spartacus.” Trek’s solid classics program and tradition would mean Sagan could slot in without missing a stride. There’s talk that Italian coffeemaker Segafredo is pushing for a big-time Italian rider, most likely Nibali. If that’s the case, Sagan will have to look elsewhere. Even with the arrival of Segafredo as a co-sponsor, the team’s budget wouldn’t be big enough to sign two major stars at the same time.
Even though tanking oil prices have hit Astana’s pocketbook, the Kazakhstan team’s government backers remain committed to cycling. Lars Boom hasn’t quite lived up to expectations and the likely departure of Vincenzo Nibali at the end of the season will open up space on the team budget. Also like at Etixx, Astana rides Specialized bikes, so Sagan wouldn’t have to change equipment. The team’s ambitions often outstrip its results, so a rider as prolific as Sagan would be an ideal fit. Unlike other teams that have established captains such as Sky or Etixx, Astana would happily make room for Sagan and some of his entourage. Astana could be the front-runner in the Sagan sweepstakes.