Peter Sagan's future at Bora-Hansgrohe is uncertain with the team's manager questioning how long the three-time world champion can justify his salary with performances on the road.
The Slovakian has been with the German team since 2017, during which he has won 25 races, three green jerseys in the Tour de France and also claimed the third of his rainbow stripes.
But question marks have been raised over Sagan's ability to compete regularly with the sport's latest stars, like Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert, with the 31-year-old only winning once in the 2020 season and losing his grip on the Tour's points classification to Sam Bennett.
Having suffered from Covid-19 during the winter, Sagan's start to the current campaign has been disrupted but he won a stage of the Volta a Catalunya last week and declared himself optimistic ahead of the Tour of Flanders.
How long he will be wearing the colours of Bora-Hansgrohe, though, is being openly speculated about by the team's manager Ralph Denk who raised doubts about the worth of his reported €5-6m salary he takes home each year.
"Peter is entering the fall of his career," Denk told the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger. "The outcome of our conversations is open.
"We would like to make a decision in April but I don't dare say which way things are going.
"We are very grateful for what Peter has meant to us. The sponsors have received a lot of attention thanks to him, but he will be entering the fall of his career.
"We also have to consider whether we still want to pay for that, or is it better to invest that money in youth?
"If Peter doesn't stay, I have a lot of money available. The sponsors trust that I can put together the best possible team with the money."
Denk added that Van der Poel, Van Aert, Tadej Pogačar, Egan Bernal and Julian Alaphilippe are the current "five iconic professional cyclists... [and] I would be a bad team boss of I didn't want one of these superstars in the team, but it has to fit.
"At the moment I don't see any of these with us in the near future, because there are existing contracts or because of the philosophy there is doesn't fit."
Should Sagan depart the German team and find himself looking for a new outfit for the 2022 season, his current team-mates could fill his role, Denk believes.
"Maybe we'll create our own star," he said. " That would be the cooler story. Maybe Lennard Kämna and Maximilian Schachmann are candidates for this role.
"They have already shown outstanding performances and they still have great potential. I will let myself be surprised."
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