Before Peter Sagan won in Richmond, three of the previous six World Champions had signed out with a Road Race win before joining new teams; Cadel Evans moved from Lotto to BMC, Mark Cavendish went to Sky and Rui Costa switched from Movistar to Lampre. This was entirely coincidental. After all, transfers are decided long before the Championships and riders don’t even compete for their teams on the day. Nevertheless, following his second World title, Peter Sagan is set to join this club of rainbow hoppers and his destination has a raised a few eyebrows; Bora.
Of the aforementioned riders, perhaps only Cavendish’s situation mirrors that of the Slovakian. Cavendish was part of the highly successful HTC-Colombia team who dominated many sprints and can boast a remarkable list of alumni. Whilst HTC were pushing what was possible on the road, others were pushing financial boundaries and Cavendish was the most sought-after rider outside of the Grand Tour winners. HTC soon grew too talented for their steady, but meagre, budget. Although nobody was particularly unhappy, it became obvious director Bob Stapleton couldn’t compete at the highest level and after a failed hunt for a new sponsor he decided to let his riders pursue new teams. Cavendish won in Copenhagen (in a memorable 1-2-3 of former HTC sprinters) and then left for Team Sky.
Sagan’s Tinkoff team is also folding and this has triggered an exodus of talent. However, unlike Stapleton, Oleg Tinkoff has more than enough money to fund a cycling team (or five). Critics say he grew bored but the often eccentric Russian provided some half-understandable explanation citing his frustration over a lack of ‘change’ in the sport.
Instead of the Russian team being picked up by another rich pair of hands, the team are collapsing and leaving their second place UCI ranking behind. If for some reason you’re worried about the removal of one of the super-rich cycling powers you can rest assured; Bahrain-Merida have been granted a World Tour license and will become the home for a number of well-paid riders. Tinkoff had plenty of experienced pros but perhaps only Michael Valgren and Jay McCarthy count as exciting prospects.
Sagan is good enough to attract interest from any UCI team. His personality only enhances his reputation and he has surely become the most successful, likeable and marketable rider on the circuit. Despite riding for Tinkoff, Sagan has maintained a humble reputation and his name is rarely mentioned in discussions of financial worth. He made his name at Liquigas (later Cannondale) and proved you can be one of the best no matter which jersey you wear. He’s won World Championships for Slovakia; a nation with scarce few elite riders. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a shock that Sagan chose to swerve round the likes of Bahrain and go to Bora. But it was. And we’re left with plenty to wonder.
Let’s start with some cold, hard facts. Bora-Argon finished tenth in the UCI European Tour (the closest of the four continental tours to a ‘second division’) below the likes of Topsport-Vlaanderen, Androni and Bardiani. They were nearly 1000 UCI points behind Wanty-Groupe Gobert. But how much does this really mean? The points system is peculiar at best (laughable at worst) and the Belgian Continental teams score highly in the one-day classic races where Bora offer a blunt threat. More concerning is the lack of victories the team collected. Irishman Sam Bennett found form in the autumn to land Paris-Bourges but the team’s young German contingent struggled to make their mark. Phil Bauhaus was one who did make strides in 2016 but he’s now left to join Sunweb.
I’m glossing over the obvious fact that Sagan hasn’t really joined this Bora-Argon team. The World Champ has joined Bora-Hansgrohe, the German management’s push for the World Tour with plenty of additional funding and plenty of new faces. Sagan’s contract will be as lucrative as he deserves and he brings with him Tinkoff pals McCarthy, Rafal Majka and Maciej Bodnar, plus compatriots Michael Kolar, Erik Baska and his brother Juraj. Sagan’s support in the Classics is bolstered by Aleksejs Saramontins. The Latvian has a good set of results at Paris-Roubaix but a lot will fall on his shoulders next spring. Leopold Konig arrives from Sky as the only other high UCI point-scorer. He no doubt strengthened their application.
For whatever reason, only a few teams formulated offers for Sagan. Perhaps a rider of his seemingly endless potential would have upset the applecart at the likes of Etixx, whilst others may not have been able to seriously consider his salary. Sky and Movistar weren’t good matches and Trek-Segafredo filled their Cancellara-shaped hole with an altogether different superstar by the name of Contador. Come the end of July, only Astana and Bora were in contention.
Sagan may have done well at Astana. Alexander Vinokourov’s team are strong enough in the one-day races and bold enough to pick dual leaders at the Grand Tours. Furthermore, back in July the team were still sponsored by Specialized and the manufacturer has been keen to maintain a partnership with Sagan. ‘Vino’ himself may have been the problem and the Kazakh was unlikely to receive a glowing testimonial from Sagan’s Liquigas pal Vincenzo Nibali. This isn’t to say Bora-Hansgrohe ended up winning a one-horse race but they were in a position to tick a lot of Sagan’s boxes. Could any other team have happily accommodated his trusted Slovakian unit?
The World Champ will never be in a position of luxury support next year – but when has he even been? He thrives under tactical flexibility. He doesn’t need to be wrapped up and delivered to the finish line. It wasn’t long ago that he was struggling under the exaggerated pressure of Oleg Tinkoff. By contrast, Bora-Hansgrohe are under more pressure than him next year. Ideally, Bora will want to prove their worth by collecting enough points to survive at World Tour level before adding on Sagan’s haul. The World Champ will only race for 80 days and pro cycling has a ten month season.
In case you were wondering, Hansgrohe make luxury taps and shower heads. And yes, Bora makes those fantastic cooktops. Whatever the new season has in store, Sagan will know both his kitchen and bathroom will stay stylishly up to date.