Peter Sagan needed a change in latitude.
A change in altitude, too.
Sagan, the Slovakian rising star of international cycling, is spending a week in Aspen training for the final crescendo of the bike racing season.
“After the Tour (de France), I take a little bit of rest for 10 days,” Sagan said in a Monday morning interview outside the new offices of The Aspen Times, on Hyman Avenue. “And now, I am in preparation for the Colorado Challenge. Then I ... go to Alberta, Quebec, Montreal .. and the World Championships.”
The 23-year-old, who has won the points classification in the Tour de France the last two years, said he has trained at altitude in the past.
Elevation will be a key factor in the third annual USA Pro Challenge, the Colorado stage race that will start with the Aspen/Snowmass Circuit Race next Monday afternoon, Aug. 19.
Sagan said that when he first arrived in Aspen he rode up Independence Pass, experiencing the difficulty of climbing in Colorado’s thin air.
“But (Sunday), we did ... Independence Pass. And I feel a little bit better today,” said Sagan, who rode the pass twice Sunday on a training ride from Aspen to Leadville and back to Aspen.
He had another hard training ride planned Monday.
“Then, we will train with the team,” Sagan said of the Cannondale team that will join Sagan for the 2013 USA Pro Challenge, which includes a Stage 2 climb up Independence Pass.
“My brother (Juraj) ... is coming from (the Tour of ) Utah,” Sagan said. “My ... other teammates are coming from Europe.”
The Cannondale team is expected to be one of the powerhouse squads in the 2013 USA Pro Challenge, with the profile of the opening circuit race an opportune situation for an experienced team with a top sprinter who can climb like Sagan.
The charismatic Sagan, who has developed an international fan base with his colorful personality and brilliant riding, will be looking for his first win in the Colorado Rockies. But he’s got plenty from everywhere else.
Sagan, the Slovakian national road-racing champion, has won seven Grand Tour stages, including four in the Tour de France. He won Stage 7 this year en route to claiming the points classification title, becoming the only cyclist in history to win the points title in his first two years in the Tour de France.
Two stages of Paris-Nice, three stages of Tirreno-Adriatico and eight stages of the Tour de Suisse belong to Sagan, along with a Tour de Suisse overall title and the overall title at the Tou de Pologne.
He has won on American roads — 10 stage wins in the Tour of California.
“I was three times in California (to race),” Sagan said. “Colorado ... no.”
Not yet, anyway.
Sagan, who also won three stages and the overall title in the Giro de Sardegna, said he enjoys the mountains after spending a week in the Aspen/Snowmass Village area.
“I start with a mountain bike when I was 9 years old,” Sagan said, adding that he did some road biking.
“Until juniors, I did always the mountain bike,” said the native of Zilina, Slovakia, who won the world junior mountain bike championship in 2008 — the same year he was second in the world junior cyclocross championship.
His junior mountain biking legacy includes the Slovak Cup when a young Sagan borrowed his sister’s undersized discount-store bike — and won the race.
Mountain biking, he said, is how he learned to execute his legendary wheelies, including one during the Tour de France this year (captured on international television).
“The mountain bike ... where I started. Now, (wheelies) are easy.”
Sagan and the 127 other cyclists in the field for the USA Pro Challenge will take to the starting line in downtown Aspen at 1:05 p.m. Monday to start the Aspen/Snowmass Circuit Race.
On Tuesday, Aug. 20, the cyclists will head out of Aspen in the morning and climb Independence Pass before working their way to Trout Pass and then Hoosier Pass and a finish in downtown Breckenridge.
The third stage of the race on Aug. 21 will go from Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs.
Stage 4 will wind from Steamboat to Beaver Creek on Aug. 22.
The fifth stage on Aug. 23 will be the traditional Vail Time Trial.
The sixth stage on Aug. 24 will head into northern Colorado — Loveland/Fort Collins.
The final and seventh stage on Aug. 25 will be the Denver Circuit Race.
“I start with a mountain bike when I was 9 years old ... until juniors, I did always the mountain bike.”
Peter Sagan, Cannondale cyclist