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Under pressure to deliver on his potential and notch up what his team owner Oleg Tinkov has laid out as a goal, namely two or more Classics, Peter Sagan went close to taking his first victory with the Tinkoff-Saxo team on Wednesday.
The Slovakian rider finished just behind Katusha’s sprinter Alexander Kristoff at the end of the fourth stage, coming out of his rival’s slipstream but running out of road. He lost out by approximately a wheel.
Sagan was earlier fourth on stages one and two, with the flurry of results coming in what is his first race of the season.
In recent days Tinkov told AS what he wanted from the 25 year old rider.
“I want him to win two or three big Classics,” he said. “If he doesn’t succeed I will feel upset, but I’m not going to kill him.”
Asked to specify which races in particular he would like him to triumph in, he named Milan-Sanremo and the Tour of Flanders. Sagan has finished second in both in the past.
Tinkov said that if he had to choose, he would rather see the rider take the Belgian event due to how it is regarded by the fans.
Meanwhile Sagan’s team-mate Maciej Bodnar finished 12th on the fourth stage in Qatar but with race leader Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) finishing on the wrong side of a five second split in the bunch, the Polish rider has narrowed his overnight deficit to just six seconds.
He remains second overall but will take a considerable morale boost from the outcome and the fact that he is now within shouting distance of the leader’s jersey.
“It was a great day. Of course, it would have been even better if Bodnar had taken seven additional seconds and if Sagan had finished 50cm further ahead,” said Tinkoff-Saxo directeur sportif Tristan Hoffman. “But we can only be satisfied. Peter showed that he has the speed and Bodnar took five seconds, which gives us confidence in the all-important stage tomorrow.”
Like his former Cannondale team-mate Sagan, the Tour of Qatar is the first race for Bodnar. He realises he is in perfect position to impress in that debut.
“We fought hard in the finale to position ourselves in the peloton and I was able to gain five seconds in a race that will be decided by small time differences,” he said. “So our effort was really worthwhile, as we distanced ourselves from Astana and got closer to Terpstra.”
Although the final stage is often controlled, he knows that the race is so unpredictable that anything could happen.
“There have been splits in the peloton on all stages, so we knew that we had to stay focused – especially in the last tricky part. Tomorrow will be the most important day of the entire race and we have to grasp the opportunities that arise,” he said.
As for Sagan, he will try to set up his team-mate for an assault on Terpstra’s jersey, but may also get the opportunity to try to snag the win he missed out on Wednesday.