Sagan (BORA-hansgrohe) will look to re-join the winner’s circle at the seven-stage race, which commences Monday morning AEST with a flat outing in Sacramento for the sprinters.
“I think for the first stage it’s pretty good and we can warm-up a little bit on the flat because after is going to be hard, a lot of climbs. We have the first opportunity to sprint and after we have to give it to climbers,” Sagan said in a pre-race press conference.
The three-time road world champion returns to racing following a difficult spring in which he finished 11th at the Tour of Flanders and 5th at Paris-Roubaix before recording DNFs at Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallonne. The 29-year-old withdrew from Liege-Bastogne-Liege and enters California on the back of a “resting” period during which he visited Prague and spent two days in his native Slovakia.
“It was not really only for Tour of California but more take time to rest because after is another long part until Tour de France that I have to be ready,” Sagan said.
The six-time Green Jersey champion will concertedly train in the US around the race, before entering the Tour de Suisse and his national championships. The former Paris-Roubaix winner then intends to chase an unprecedented seventh green jersey at the Tour de France. Sagan levelled Erik Zabel’s record six last season, pushing through heavy abrasions and bruises sustained in a stage 17 crash to finish in Paris. It was an effort that Sagan has only recently stopped feeling lingering effects of.
“I feel good. I don’t think I have still something from Tour de France last year, but we’ll see. The first part of the season has passed, and I’ll be getting ready for the next,” he said. “It’s my 10th Tour of California this year. I hope it’s going to be a good year. I just try to do something.”
Sagan has won at least a stage in all of his Tour of California participations except for last season, which he contrarily entered on the back of a blockbuster early season, winning Paris-Roubaix, Gent-Wevelgem, a stage and the points classification at the Tour Down Under. He has just one victory to his name ahead of his lap around the US state this month.
Arguably helping Sagan’s cause is the calibre of the sprint field here, which is less packed than last with Colombian sensation Fernando Gaviria (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) absent. Gaviria took a clean sweep of sprint stage victories with only Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and the returning Max Walscheid (Sunweb) really able to challenge in 2018.
Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), who was introduced as a ‘fan favourite’ during media rounds on Friday, is confident of his chances, claiming he is healthy again following a battle with Epstein-Barr virus. Cavendish’s best result in a bunch sprint last year was 10th.
The mountainous course may also be advantageous to Sagan with regard to the points classification. Sagan is typically able to hold on longer in mountain stages, compared to rivals, and claim intermediate primes that count towards it.
Sophie Smith is at the Amgen Tour of California as a guest of AEG and ASO, reporting for SBS online.