Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) says that the years are passing for everyone, including him, and "every year's more difficult."
The 29-year-old Slovakian and three-time world champion won the Tour of Flanders in 2016 and in 2018, Paris-Roubaix.
This spring, he is again aiming for Milan-San Remo and the cobbled Monuments, but pushing all the way through to Liège-Bastogne-Liège. As he gets older, he says he realises the difficultly in holding his level for such a long time.
"I feel good, but every year's more difficult," he said at a sit down interview during Tirreno-Adriatico on Wednesday.
"There are always more things to do: there are more races, people want more interviews... It's easy to reach a certain level, but it's much more difficult to stay there. I didn't realise that five or six years ago when I first started to win, but now I do."
Sagan's palmarès also includes 11 Tour de France stage wins and the points competition six times. Over those years, new riders have surfaced and Sagan's understanding has grown.
"Now I understand it because I've got more responsibility. My body's getting older, and each year it takes longer to recover," he continued.
"Cycling's becoming more professional, so you have to do more. You have to look after yourself and work all the time: do stretching, recovery; you can't stop from when you wake up to when you go to bed."
Sagan will take a break after Liège-Bastogne-Liège on April 28, and return for the Tour de France, likely racing the Tour de Suisse beforehand. Not a pure sprinter, he has been able to observe the recent change of guard in bunch sprints.
"You can't race all your life. That's sport. Each one of us goes as far as we can, and then we reach the end. Guys like André Greipel [Arkéa-Samsic] are still racing on, but young guys are coming through all the time as well. That's happening to him and it will happen to me – and it happens to everybody," explained Sagan.
"We can't say that they're done [like Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin)]. Mark rode in Argentina [at the Vuelta a San Juan] and then at the UAE Tour. But how many times have we seen him struggle at the start of the year and then go on to win four of five stages at the Tour de France? The season's long, and you can't underestimate anyone. Nobody's beaten on the start line."
Sagan will face puncheur rivals, but his likely sprint rivals for Milan-San Remo include Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), 30 years old, Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) – the latter two both 24.
"Now there's Elia Viviani and Fernando Gaviria, and Caleb Ewan is coming through. Alvaro Hodeg for Deceuninck, too. He's young and fast, but you always need time to learn," continued Sagan.
"I can remember that I crashed the first time I led out a sprint for Liquigas. Young riders are coming through, but they still need time."
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