Cyclist Sagan serene for SanRemo after dog-walker scare

Justin DAVIS
Slovakian cyclist Peter Sagan will be the man to beat in the Milan-San Remo

World champion Peter Sagan has brushed off a brush with a dog walker this week, and says he's even more relaxed as expectations mount for a maiden win at Milan-San Remo on Saturday.

"Thinking too much about cycling is the least of my problems," Sagan said after capping his Tirreno-Adriatico campaign on Tuesday with two stage wins from the 'Race of the Two Seas'.

"I don't feel that kind of pressure anymore. I have to be a favourite for every race, so after seven years I'm used to it."

A five-time winner of the Tour de France green jersey, Sagan's form at Tirreno, and his versatility as a bike racer suggest he could be the man to beat in the first one-day classic of the season.

But the flamboyant Slovakian should be counting his lucky stars he will even start the 108th edition, one of cycling's five one-day classic 'monuments' to be raced over a gruelling 291 km.

Revered for pulling wheelies mid-race, Sagan's bike-handling skills saved his skin, and possibly his season during a 10km time trial Tuesday when he deftly swerved to avoid a woman nonchalantly walking her dog over a zebra crossing.

True to form, he shrugged off the incident saying: "Maybe the woman with the dog was right after all. I was riding the wrong way and she was on the pedestrian crossing."

If he triumphs on Saturday, Sagan will succeed Frenchman Arnaud Demare as champion on an honours list that features big name sprinters like Sean Kelly, Erik Zabel, Oscar Freire and Mark Cavendish.

But the laid-back Bora team leader won't have it so easy.

High winds, rain and occasional snow are among the challenges faced as the peloton race along the Ligurian coast, taking in the difficult Cipressa and Poggio climbs on their way to the 300-metre home straight on Via Roma.

Sagan has no shortage of rivals either.

Filippo Pozzato, Italy's last winner of the race in 2006, believes 2015 champion John Degenkolb and Colombian Fernando Gaviria, and Sagan, are the trio to beat.

"They are the three strongest riders because they can finish with a sprint, with a small group and they are three riders with so many possibilities," Pozzato told

"An attack in the final? Peter is capable and Gaviria also. Degenkolb also is very strong. I very much like Sagan, and Degenkolb is now very much one of the big riders for the classics."

Having triumphed in 2006 after a daring attack 600 metres from the finish, Pozzato played down a repeat: "It has become difficult to win because there are too many sprinters in the final."

Sagan, Degenkolb and Gaviria could have other fast men for company.

Demare (FDJ), who dominated a messy bunch sprint ahead of Britain's Ben Swift last year, has been honing form by riding behind his moped-riding father this week.

Britain's former champion Cavendish (Data Dimension), Norway's 2014 champion Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), and Elia Viviani (Team Sky) are also names to avoid on the home straight.

Although not a pure sprinter, Belgian Greg Van Avermaet leads his BMC team's charge looking to exploit any late opportunities.

"Milan-San Remo is a hard race and a bit of a lottery," said Van Avermaet.

Sagan has already been trumped by a 'pure' sprinter on the race, finishing second to Gerald Ciolek when the German caused an upset in 2014.

Now in the prime of his career, 27-year-old Sagan added: "We'll see what happens on Saturday. I'm just happy that Tirreno-Adriatico went well and that my form is good."