World champion Sagan again feeling at home in California

Los Angeles (AFP) –


World champion Peter Sagan, surprise winner of the 2015 Tour of California, is again among the main attractions for the 2018 edition that starts on Sunday in Long Beach, south of Los Angeles.

The Slovakian's brash style and history of success in California have made him one of the sport's best-known names Stateside. There's even a race named for him, the Sagan Fondo in Truckee, California.

"I love California and am never there long enough," the Bora team leader said. "My time in the Tour of California is some of the best of my racing season. I really feel at home whenever I'm there."

Sagan has raced in California every year of his pro career and holds the record for California stage wins with 16.

That includes a record of five in 2012 and at least one stage every year since 2010.

He'll be back in action after a break following a spring classics campaign that saw him triumph in the Gent-Wevelgem before mounting an epic break to win the Paris-Roubaix.

He's eager to tackle the race that concludes on Saturday, May 19 in the state capital of Sacramento.

"What keeps me motivated is to do something, and to have fun," he said. "That is, I think, the best motivation."

But even with 2017 winner George Bennett (LottoNL) of New Zealand opting instead for the Giro d'Italia this year, Sagan likely will have trouble replicating his 2015 triumph -- when he edged out France's Julian Alaphilippe by just three seconds.

The field also includes another California regular in Britain's Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) a winner of 10 stages over the years, and German Marcel Kittel (Katusha).

With two mountain stages -- including the stage two 'hors categorie' climb into Gibraltar Road -- Sagan teammate and 2017 runner-up Rafal Majka of Poland and France's Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) look to be contenders.

Tour of California programme:

1st stage: May 13, Long Beach-Long Beach (134.5 km)

2nd stage: May 14, Ventura-Gibraltar Road (157 km)

3rd stage: May 15, King City-Laguna Seca (197 km)

4th stage: May 16, San Jose (Time trial, 34.7 km)

5th stage: May 17, Stockton-Elk Grove (176.5 km)

6th stage: May 18, Folsom-South Lake Tahe (196.5 km)

7th stage: May 19, Sacramento-Sacramento (143 km)