The Sagan Fondos are two events held annually in California, giving an opportunity for cyclists and Peter Sagan fans to ride alongside the three-time world champion in stunning scenery, either on the road or on gravel.
The 110km road ride takes place in autumn through the vineyards surrounding Windsor, California. I was lucky enough to attend the event as a guest of clothing brand Sportful and rode the newly released Specialized S-Works Venge on loan from the Californian based company.
Riding the bike that won four stages at this year's Tour de France and the opportunity to ride alongside Peter Sagan was an exciting enough prospect, but as someone who had never ridden in North America, there was more to look forward to than just that.
- The Course: Sagan Fondo, Windsor, California, USA. 113 kilometres/70 miles total distance, 1,500m/4,900ft elevation. (My Strava from the day)
- The Horse: Specialized S-Works Venge with Shimano Dura-Ace R9170 groupset, 52/36 S-Works Power Cranks crankset with power meter, 11-30 cassette, Roval CLX 50 wheels, S-Works Turbo 26mm clinchers, S-Works Aerofly 2 handlebars, Specialized Power saddle, Garmin Edge 1030 computer
- The Goal: Enjoy the stunning autumnal scenery while riding alongside three-time world champion Peter Sagan
The S-Works Venge is fast, (pretty) light and comfortable
A 56cm S-Works Venge has a claimed weight of 7.1kg, with Specialized also saying the latest Venge has 40–50 percent more rear-end compliance than the Venge ViAS, as well as being more aerodynamic.
Putting the claims aside, my initial impressions of the S-Works Venge are that as soon as you clip in, you want to ride it fast everywhere.
The power transfer is impressive and combined with aerodynamics that seemingly slip through the air, the bike is always encouraging and urging you to push just that little bit harder.
At around 7kg, the bike isn't as feather-light as some climbing framesets, but being only a few hundred grams above the UCI weight limit it hardly makes it a heavyweight.
During the first 50km / 31mi of the Sagan Fondo, I found myself in a peculiar but strong group, which included my host from Sportful, a former Master's world champion, two junior racers and a recumbent bicycle.
The S-Works Venge excelled on the rolling roads and false flats of the first half of the ride. Staying in the drops for the majority of this opening hour or so and enjoying a fast pace with the small but strong group I was in put a massive smile on my face.
Despite this being the first time I had ridden the Venge, stability at speed, a stiff bottom bracket area alongside the comfort offered from new carbon layups combined to make an instant connection between myself and the bike.
Up and down Sweetwater
Sweetwater was the major climb of the day and the climb began at the halfway point of the ride. Around half an hour of climbing was followed by ten minutes of descending on rough, narrow and winding roads.
On the climb, the 36x30 lower gearing combination was just enough for the 2km of 10+ percent gradient (and my legs), but it was also in this section where I, maybe harshly, felt the S-Works Venge was lacking for the only time during the day.
The S-Works Venge never really felt alive when climbing out of the saddle, which perhaps is an unavoidable compromise on an aero bike designed to be the absolute fastest on the flat, but by staying seated, the power transfer that was so obvious on the flat also felt efficient and was a decent trade off for the other benefits the bike offers.
Launched in conjunction with the new Venge, Specialized also released the S-Works Aerofly 2 handlebars earlier this year.
Offering the narrow frontal profile of aero-specific bars, the Aerofly 2 also offers adjustability by having a regular 31.8mm tube section at the centre and two inserts hiding the cable junction into the stem.
The handlebar tops are flecked with small spots to improve grip and never felt uncomfortable, even when riding without gloves.
Cresting the climb led to the technical descent with plenty of potholes, blind and off-camber corners, low autumn light and shadows, hairpins and oncoming traffic.
Shimano Dura-Ace disc brakes in a 160mm (front) and 140mm (rear) rotor combination impressed and although the weather was completely dry, I suspect I would have felt as comfortable descending in the wet with this stopping power.
Finishing kit and accessories
As with many modern framesets, the S-Works Venge has an integrated stem. Specialized says the stem is stiffer than the Zipp Sprint SL, which is regularly used by WorldTour sprinters and known for its class-leading performance.
The stem also features a metal faceplate with integrated computer mount. Where other brands have opted for plastic components in this area, the sturdy metal mount which accommodated my Garmin Edge 1030 was appreciated.
A quick spin of the pedals also paired the integrated power meter with the computer effortlessly.
Continuing the integration and in-house brand trend, the Venge was also dressed with Supacaz handlebar tape, a Specialized Power saddle, Roval CLX 50 wheels and 26mm S-Works Turbo clinchers.
As one of the most expensive stock bicycles on the market, the S-Works Venge needs to live up to its price tag. The performance, aesthetics and finishing kit is world-class in every aspect and while I certainly can't afford an S-Works Venge, if you can, I don't think you'll feel short-changed.
Windsor, CA. (not Windsor, Berkshire, UK)
Originally hailing from Surrey in England, my home casual weekend ride was an occasional jaunt to Great Windsor Park and back with my local bunch, so when I saw the Sagan Fondo started and finished in Windsor, California I had a little smile to myself.
After a few gravel and road rides with Sportful in the days leading up to the event, the trip was the first time I'd ridden a bike anywhere in North America, and the Californian roads far exceeded my expectations.
The Sagan Fondo combines rolling roads through vineyards and rural hills with the stunning autumnal Californian weather. A summer baselayer, short sleeved jersey and vest was more than enough clothing for the day.
I averaged a decent pace despite my three food stops and the 1,500 metres/4,900 feet of climbing.
Riding alongside Peter Sagan is also a very cool experience and the relatively casual pace, alongside three different distances, means you should get the opportunity to ride with the three-time world champion should you want to, or at least grab a selfie and a beer with the Slovakian at the finish village in Windsor — local beer producer Lagunitas offered all participants (over the age of 21) a beer to accompany the paella at the finish line, which was included in the event entry fee.
After the Classics season draws to a close at the end of April, Peter Sagan will host the gravel edition of the Sagan Fondo in May in Truckee, California before another road event in November (location to be confirmed). See more about the Sagan Fondo here.