World road race champion Peter Sagan will seek Olympic gold in Rio on his mountain bike.
The Slovak Olympic Committee announced Tuesday that Sagan, one of the most popular and successful cyclists in the world, was awarded its lone starting spot in the mountain biking event at the Summer Games.
Sagan tested the difficult road course in Rio de Janeiro in January and decided it was too hilly for him to contend. So he turned his attention to mountain biking, where he is a former junior world champion.
Peter Privara of the Slovak Cycling Association said Sagan gave up his road spot for the mountain biking spot. Martin Haring and Patrik Tybor will start the road race instead, with Michal Lami the mountain bike alternate.
Sagan rode a pair of mountain bike races in April, crashing during a race in Austria before finishing fourth in a race in the Czech Republic. That performance earned him enough ranking points to compete in Rio.
The United States will make its selection June 24, with Durango’s Howard Grotts, 23, high on USA Cycling’s list of candidates along with Washington’s Stephen Ettinger.
Sagan is scheduled to ride the Tour de France for Team Tinkoff in July, targeting stage wins and the green points jersey that he’s won the past four years. Then he’ll turn his attention to the mountain bike, with a four-week training block that he hopes will prepare him to compete for gold in the cross-country race on Aug. 21.
“He will not go to Rio just to take part but to aim for a good position,” Privara said.
Sagan won the world road race championship with an inspired ride last fall in Richmond, Virginia. He is also coming off a strong performance at the Tour of California that included a pair of stage victories, then remained in the U.S. to put in an altitude training block in Utah – both on the road and his mountain bike.
Sagan competed in the road race at the London Olympics in 2012. He was among the prerace favorites but missed the crucial break and finished in a large group nearly a minute back of winner Alexander Vinokourov.
Slovakia has competed as an independent nation at the Olympics since the 1994 Winter Games, but it has yet to win a cycling medal. Anton Tkac won gold in track cycling at the 1976 Montreal Olympics for Czechoslovakia.
“The aim is to give Slovakia the best possible result,” John Zilova, the head of Slovakia’s mountain bike team, said in a statement. “Peter Sagan in the past managed to win the world title in mountain biking, so his chances of a good outcome are realistic. At the moment, I can confirm support for the plan from all of the nominees.”
The Durango Herald contributed to this report.