Green is the color Peter Sagan of Cannondale Pro Cycling seems to covet the most. The Slovakian won the green jersey at last year's Tour de France as well as the past two Amgen Tour of California races.
The green jersey represents the points classification leader of a multistage race. It usually is won by the field's top sprinter. While more attention goes to the overall winner -- the one who wears the yellow jersey -- Sagan, 23, is happy with green.
"To aspire to win a grand tour I need to become another kind of rider," he said in a recent email interview. "I don't know if I want to do this."
In 2013, Sagan already has won Belgium road races Gent-Wevelgem and Brabantse Pijl. He also took second in Milan-San Remo and Tour of Flanders and won two stages each at the Tour of Oman and Tirreno-Adriatico.
And Sagan found himself in green again Wednesday after finishing fifth in Stage 4 of the Tour of California. The cyclist is having another successful run in the United States by taking third in the opening stage and winning Stage 3 on Tuesday.
He caught the world's attention last year by winning five of the eight stages in California, a dominance rarely seen in road racing. Last year's performance made Sagan something of a target for this tour. Saxo-Tinkoff's Timmy Duggan, Sagan's former Cannondale teammate, said teams would have a different strategy to combat the Slovakian.
"They can't just let Cannondale tow him around," he said of teammates putting him in position to win the sprint stages.
Sagan entertains no illusions that he can stand out Friday in the individual time trial in South San Jose or Saturday with a finish atop Mount Diablo. But he hopes to be back in contention for a stage victory Sunday on the final day from San Francisco to downtown Santa Rosa.
Sagan, who began riding mountain bikes and cyclocross, answered questions from this newspaper by email before the Tour of California. Here is an edited version of the interview:
Answer: First of all, to improve again. My race schedule will be the same as 2012, so the Classics are the main target in the first part of the season, then the Tour of California, Tour de France and last, maybe, the World Championships. And repeat the performance in California and France, taking the green jersey again.
A: I think that nothing has changed. When I became a pro, my dream was to win the best races in the world, and win as many as possible. I can be satisfied with what I have done until today, but the road is now long again. I haven't yet taken a Classic race: the Tour of Flanders, for example, would be a big win.
A: Mother Nature gave me these characteristics and what I have to do is to make use of them in the best way. In a prologue time trial I can be competitive, but not for a longer one. And at the moment, I don't want to change into something different. I know I can develop again, improving my resistance on climbs to be really complete. But I don't want to become another type of rider.
A: The time trial is a specific discipline in cycling and you need a particular attitude. It's a race against time, not with the others. Of course it's particular and sometimes depends upon the route. In any case, you need to warm up and then find a race rhythm without forcing or losing speed.
A: Yes, it is. Usually we ride the course in the morning, check it out again on paper with team directors and more experienced riders, and then try again before the race. If you want to do well you need to know almost every part.
A: In a stage race, you need to plan so it won't be a big problem to have a time trial before. As I said, I'm working to improve my resistance in mountain stages so I hope to be able to show some good signs there. I don't aim to become a climber, but to be more resistant means to have more power at the end of a hilly stage and have more opportunity to take a win.
A: It's a matter of physics, first of all. To be a good climber you need to be light, because as many kilos you have are the kilos you have to carry on the bike. Sprinters and climbers can't be together; they are too different. And to aspire to win a grand tour I need to become another kind of rider. I don't know if I want to do this.
A: First, I like the United States and California. Riding here is a pleasure: weather, routes ... it's great! Then there are the people on the road: they're so warm and they support and give a big push. I think organizers did great work and this race improves year by year. They only need to continue.
A: In my opinion, it's not a matter of lesson but culture. I grew in a different cycling world and I didn't look to the past but the future. Management of Cannondale Pro Cycling, for example, invests a lot of energy and money for young riders and I think this is the key if you want a new cycling culture. The new generation is different: we know how to be clean and we know we will be able to give new credibility to cycling.
A: Cycling now is not a sport of "omertà." I know Armstrong and other doping cases present cycling as a sport full of doping, but I know it is really different. We're controlled at any time but, first of all, the culture is different. I don't feel a responsibility. I only think to show by example: to win and be clean is possible.
A: Well, of course I'm glad to write my own stories in cycling and I hope these can find more space in the media.
A: The Olympic race came after the big efforts of the Tour. Believe me, winning three stages and the green jersey was not easy. So, I wasn't at the top of my condition. Then, the race was strange. I thought I'd stay near Cavendish because, in my point of view, he was the favorite. I know it was a risk, but that's road racing: you have only one shot, that's all. I wasn't happy but also not so disappointed. I know I'm young and I'll have more chances in the future.
A: It was great: the Olympic spirit is unique. If I had my Cannondale teammates to help me it could have been another kind of race.
A: If I was tired after the Tour, at the end of the season I was even more tired. My focus for 2012 was the first part of the season until the Tour de France. I hope to improve my resistance now so I can be able to be competitive for the entire season.
A: The entire Tour de France was the most satisfying moment of the season. And the best result was the green jersey.
A: It's only my way of thinking. I don't think about being a star and I don't want to be one. Cycling is passion and I like competition. I don't win to become famous. I want to be a simple 23-year-old guy. I want, and hope, to remain the same Peter for all my life.
A: Well, yes, my life was not simple in Slovakia but I'm happy that the cycling movement is growing thanks to me. And this makes me proud. Knowing that children like to practice cycling to follow my example is great.
A: I like my hometown, Zilina, where I was born and raised. I live there with my brother and teammate Juraj (Sagan) when I'm not at the races. I like sports, mountain biking the most: this is my off season activity.
A: Yes it's true. The bike was something like a mix of an old mountain bike and a road bike. Now it's funny to talk about, but when I was a child I was happy just to have a bike.
A: This was not really true, maybe out of competition, but luckily my parents always helped me to get what I needed to compete.
A: The surfboard is hung up on the wall of my sitting room: a great memory from California!
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.