Peter Sagan: I want to finish with mountain biking and finally enjoy something in cycling

The three-time world champion on ending his road career, returning to MTB and looking ahead to the Paris Olympics

Clock21:16, Wednesday 8th November 2023

© Velo Collection (Dario Belingheri) / Getty Images

Peter Sagan made sure to walk around Singapore's Fountain of Wealth three times to bring himself good luck for 2024

At the Tour de Vendée, Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) bid farewell to professional road racing with a ninth-place finish and a spirited performance. It was to be his last outing in the professional peloton, but ever the mover and shaker, it certainly would not mark a moment of respite for the three-time world champion.

Instead, Sagan has since been seen lining up at the Tour de France Criteriums in Singapore and Japan, presenting the Flandrien of the Year Award to Alpecin-Deceuninck's Jasper Philipsen in Belgium, and will soon be fulfilling sponsorship obligations in Chile over the 'off-season'.

Read more: Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome and Peter Sagan defeated in rickshaw relay

The word off-season, however, does not hold all too much relevancy for Sagan, who is a hustler like no other in the peloton. For more than a decade, he was cycling's pre-eminent superstar, and whilst his crown as one of the world's best cyclists has somewhat slipped in the past few years, he continues to be a major attraction for his numerous sponsors, such as Specialized.

Now 33 years of age, Sagan announced earlier in the season that the 2023 campaign would be his last as a professional road cyclist, but in true Sagan spirit, the Tour de Vendée certainly won't be the last we see of the Slovakian, with his eyes turned instead to mountain biking and a spot at the Paris Olympics next summer.

For the time being, Sagan is looking forward to stepping off the conveyor belt that is life as a WorldTour rider and is enthused by the challenges that lie ahead of him in a discipline of cycling that has evaded him for much of the last 15 years.

On the ground at the recent Tour de France Prudential Singapore Criterium, GCN spoke exclusively with Sagan to find out why now was the right time to pull the curtain down on his professional road career and discover the Slovakian's thoughts on his return to mountain biking.

I am tired of the circus that goes around professional cycling, admits Peter Sagan

In a career that has spanned 14 years, Sagan's palmarès reads like few others', with three World Championships to his name, seven Tour de France green jerseys and an array of other achievements. He has not, however, been able to remain a winning machine until his final pedalstroke, with Sagan's last major victory coming at the Giro d'Italia in 2021.

Read more: The five victories that made Peter Sagan unforgettable

Some riders retire at the top of their game, with the world of sport at their feet. Alberto Contador, for example, retired at the end of 2017 having won the final mountain stage of the Vuelta a España. Others remain riding long after their peak simply for the joy of the sport, think of Chris Froome and his continued commitment to Israel-Premier Tech despite the lingering effects of a 2019 crash that brought an end to his time at the top.

Read more: 'I feel five years younger' – Chris Froome ready to take on 2024 with fresh motivation

For Sagan, however, he is neither retiring at his peak nor stepping away completely after many years of anonymous performances. Rather, the Slovakian has decided to call time on his professional road career and turn his attention towards tuning his body for the Paris Olympics next summer.

"The thing is, I am already 14 years into my professional cycling career," noted Sagan. "I am a little bit tired of that and all the circus that is going around it. Every year it is the same, and new guys are coming and I don’t want to say I am not motivated anymore, I just want to say that I think my time has come."

The passing of time is a cruel mistress in any walk of life and the departure of Sagan from road cycling's elite level will certainly mark a moment of reflection for a certain generation. Many will have grown up watching Sagan flourish as the big thing in a sport that was often devoid of the character and entertainment that the Slovakian brought in bagfuls.

To see him now as a figure of days gone by will stop many in their tracks, with 2023 having the sense of a year in which road cycling cuts the chord with its past and turns squarely towards the new generation.

Not only has Sagan ridden his final road season, but so too have Greg Van Avermaet, Zdeněk Štybar and of course, Thibaut Pinot - all three of whom have cited a fatigue of the modern sport's punishing relentlessness.

Read more:

"I started with mountain biking, I want to finish with mountain biking and I finally want to enjoy something in cycling," an honest Sagan admitted, "and not just to be focused on big priorities."

"For so long, it has been Classics, then Tour de France, then World Championships and it is always the same, the same, the same… I need a change."

That is not to say that Sagan looks back with any regret of his time lighting up races for the likes of Cannondale, Tinkoff-Saxo and Bora-Hansgrohe. When asked to reflect on his greatest memories from the road, the 33-year-old's eyes lit up in a similar amazement to the rest of us when reeling off his list of results.

"The victories are my favourite memories," he said. "Three World Championships are the best, and then Flanders, Roubaix, seven green jerseys, I think these are the best victories that I achieved in my career."

There is more than a sense of pride behind Sagan's words, as he takes stock of what he was able to achieve in his time at the top.

But for now, Sagan's eyes turn instead to the dreams of a little boy riding around the woods in Slovakia. It will be SPDs rather than road pedals for Sagan in 2024, as he looks forward to a return to mountain biking.

"It is definitely going to be different all year, but I will also meet different people than I have before and it is going to be something new.

"That is what motivates me."

Sagan sees mountain biking as more fun but dangerous than ever before

His contract with TotalEnergies may be up at the end of 2023, but Sagan's relationship with Specialized runs as deep as ever and he will turn out in the colours of Specialized Factory Racing Team in mountain biking next season.

The aim is for Sagan to ride in the Paris Olympic Games, which he admits would be the "dream", but just gaining qualification for the event is a task in itself for Slovakia's only big cycling star.

"It’s going to be very difficult and a very hard way until Paris," Sagan acknowledged. "But I always say it is not impossible and I have to think positive. I have to think it is possible and then we will see. It is definitely going to be hard work."

Such hesitancy is borne out of the UCI points that Sagan, and in turn Slovakia, will have to rack up before the Olympic Games just to see the nation qualify for a spot on the starting grid. Rather than qualifying as individuals, it is nations who qualify for the Olympics and Sagan is essentially the only mountain biker who is making a run at things for Slovakia.

There is a two-year points cycle prior to the Games and for the past season, Sagan has been understandably busy with his road racing commitments to TotalEnergies. He rode the Mountain Bike World Championships earlier this summer and finished 37th in the short track, before coming home 63rd in the cross-country Olympic event.

It wasn't the illustrious return to mountain biking he was hoping for, but Sagan knows this is a different sport than the one he left 15 years ago - albeit with infrequent dalliances in the interim - and he remains eager to throw himself back into the sport that had him venturing into the woods as a child.

"It is definitely more fun, but also more dangerous than before," Sagan reflected. "It is shorter, it is very intense and I missed it for fifteen years. There has been a lot of change in mountain biking, you have to learn a lot of new things: how to adjust the suspension, ride better technically in downhills and train to perform over the short, intense performances, and then recover fast."

Earlier in the weekend, Sagan had noted to GCN the difference between a rider in his ilk and that of Ineos Grenadiers' Tom Pidcock. Whilst Sagan's heart rate maxes out on the climbs in mountain biking, and the descents are used as a moment to recover, a light rider such as Pidcock can somewhat ghost uphill and continue a punishing pace into the downhill.

He admitted it is a different sport than the one he left to ply his trade on the road, but is quick to insist this is not meant in a negative tone. In particular, Sagan's intrigue became apparent when discussing the jumps and obstacles that have been introduced to mountain biking, offering up a new challenge to what was posed by the courses on which he became the junior world and European champion back in the day.

"It is going to be totally different from road racing, but it is going to be hard work. A lot of things changed and I have to learn a lot of new things."

MTB World Cups may offer Sagan a way into the Paris Olympics

Luckily for Sagan, time is still on his side when it comes to qualification for the Olympics, and relieved from the burdens presented to him by life in the WorldTour, the Slovakian's preparations can turn firmly off-road.

The top 19 countries in the UCI's Nation Rankings earn a spot in the Olympics next summer. Switzerland currently sits in first position, a whopping 38 places above Slovakia. Switzerland's case is no doubt helped by the consistency of former gold medalist Nino Schurter, but Sagan and Slovakia can take hope from the 37-year-old's gold medal run at the 2016 Olympic Games.

It was here that Sagan last truly turned his attention to the discipline and despite starting from the back row, he ghosted into the top three behind Schurter after just a minute and a half. For a moment, it looked as though Sagan was a match for the then-five-time world champion, but an untimely puncture brought those dreams to a halt.

The way in which Sagan moved up from place 50 of 50 on the starting grid still lingers in the memory, however, and will have many tuning into the UCI MTB World Cups next year to catch a glimpse of how Sagan fares.

At the time of writing, there are at least nine mountain bike races on Sagan's calendar, likely including all the World Cups before Paris, as he bids to rack up sufficient UCI points to bolster Slovakia into the top 19. His preparations may well also include the occasional run out on a road bike.

Sagan's plans are yet to be fully decided with Specialized, but there is a possibility of him riding a few amateur road races for RRK Group-Pierre Baguette in the new year. His brother Juraj is currently a DS for the team and it is understood that any road races he enters would simply be for training, rather than with the ambition of racking up results.

Sagan's time at the top of professional road cycling is certainly up, but the Slovakian only looks back with fondness and gratitude for those who supported him along the way. Before GCN's time was up with the three-time world champion, he was keen to send a message to the supporters who have watched him grow from a young upstart with Liquigas into one of the biggest stars that cycling will ever see.

"Thanks to everyone because thanks to them, I had my career and they made my career much more enjoyable," said Sagan. "In the future, you will enjoy me also in mountain biking and we will see you in the races!"

Related Content

Link to Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome and Peter Sagan defeated in rickshaw relay
Mark Cavendish enjoys the ride as Chris Froome rides the rickshaw relay

Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome and Peter Sagan defeated in rickshaw relay

Jovial challenge welcomes in the Tour de France Prudential Singapore Criterium weekend, as Tadej Pogačar, Jasper Philipsen and Giulio Ciccone emerge on top

Clock
Link to The five victories that made Peter Sagan unforgettable
Bowing out of the sport on Sunday, Peter Sagan will be fondly remembered as one of the greats

The five victories that made Peter Sagan unforgettable

Two Monuments, two Grand Tour stages and his first World Championship success, we run down five of the Slovakian’s best victories ahead of his final race

Clock
Link to Jasper Philipsen outsprints Mark Cavendish to win Tour de France Singapore Criterium
Jasper Philipsen wins the Tour de France Singapore Criterium

Jasper Philipsen outsprints Mark Cavendish to win Tour de France Singapore Criterium

Stars of the Tour de France put on a spectacle for the Singaporean supporters

Clock
Link to Chris Froome hesitant to say today's top riders are much faster than those in the past
Chris Froome was part of the Legends team at the Tour de France Prudential Singapore Criterium, and pleased the spectators with an early move into the breakaway

Chris Froome hesitant to say today's top riders are much faster than those in the past

In a GCN exclusive, the four-time Tour de France champion compares Jumbo-Visma to Team Sky and marvels at the collective level of today's peloton

Clock
Subscribe to the GCN Newsletter

Get the latest, most entertaining and best informed news, reviews, challenges, insights, analysis, competitions and offers - straight to your inbox