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by Shane Stokes
April 4, 2016
Photography by Kristof Ramon
One week ago, his first win since becoming world champion. Then on Sunday, the first monument win of his career. Things keep getting better for Peter Sagan, and next weekend he’s aiming to keep the momentum going over the cobblestones of Northern France.
“What I reached was another big victory,” the Tinkoff rider said at the post-race press conference held close to the finish in Oudenaarde. “First the world championships, and now it is something special, because with the rainbow jersey I won Flanders.
“This is my objective in the year – from the start it is Flanders, Roubaix. Now things are very good.”
As was the case for much of last year, the early part of this season saw some people dismiss Sagan as a rider who kept finishing second or third.
Converting his talent and form into actual victories seemed difficult but, just as he did in Richmond last September, he bounced back and proved those who questioned him wrong.
His victory on Sunday was masterful; he attacked with over 30 kilometres to go with 2014 world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) and was then joined by Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo).
Together they reeled in riders who were up the road. Then Sagan and Vanmarcke pushed ahead together before the Belgian was dropped.
Sagan’s early aggression took many others by surprise, including the other pre-race favourite, Fabian Cancellara. Asked why he gambled on making his move when he did, he said it was because the pressure had been on since the start of the day.
“It [the move] was very early, but the race was very, very hard. I saw in the group that all the riders were tired. Then after Taaienberg we went into the breakaway with 12 riders. There was one guy from Trek, I think it was Devolder, and from us it was Oscar Gatto. They were pulling to keep this distance from other riders.”
A small group got back up to them, but Kwiatkowski then surged. Sagan had already come up against the Sky rider in the E3-Harelbeke last week, with the Pole winning out then.
Sagan said it was a no brainer that he needed to be marked. “Okay, he went in the breakaway very early but behind everybody was tired and Sky had four or five riders there. It was very good to go in the breakaway with somebody from Sky.
“It was a very strange race. I did the Tour of Flanders six times and it was never as hard as this year. I don’t know what different riders were thinking.”
Behind, Cancellara was panicking. He will retire this season and knew it was his final chance to win the race. Had he done so, he would have set the absolute record of four career victories in it.
He set off in pursuit but Sagan pushed ahead himself and the gap was never bridged.
“He maybe made a little mistake when he didn’t go in our breakaway,” Sagan said. “But he was surprised. It went very well for me.
“In Kwaremont I had an advantage on him. Then for Paterberg. I don’t want to say I had it under control, but I thought that if I go full gas, he also has to go full gas.
“He had also Vanmarcke on the wheel. I was hoping that they would try to recover for the sprint [rather than give it everything in pursuit – ed.] . It was like that, he was chasing me and he brought back some seconds, but then I started to have the advantage again.
“I noticed that maybe in the last two or three kilometres it was good.”
Given that Sagan took his first win as world champion last Sunday and then triumphed again, it was easy to think that perhaps the two were related. Taking Gent-Wevelgem could well have taken the pressure off him and also given him a morale boost.
However, when this was suggested to him he played down such thoughts. “I am very happy also for last week, but it is also a different race today than last week.”
He also dismissed any parallels drawn between his Flanders victory and the world championship title in Richmond.
He said that unlike Flanders, which he has ridden five times, racing on the US worlds course was a first. He said there was therefore a lot less familiarity with the route.
However there was one parallel, and he made clear to mention it.
“In Richmond it was all different [to WorldTour races such as Flanders] as we started with just three riders, me and my brother and Michael Kolar.
“The last three victories I did were in combination with [the same] three of us. Me, my brother and Michael Kolar were also in Gent-Wevelgem and in Richmond. Maybe it is a special combination of the riders.”
Whatever the reason for success, he made clear to think outside what he had done. “I want to dedicate this victory to the guys who died last week,” he said, referring to crash victim Antoine Demoitié (Wanty Groupe Gobert) and the heart attack sufferer Daan Myngheer (Roubaix – Lille Metropole].
“And also to Maciej Bodnar, who had a very bad crash yesterday. Unfortunately he didn’t start today, as he is in hospital. I hope that he heals soon and comes back in the group as early as possible.”
Click on the player above to hear the full press conference, including the reason why Sagan is becoming known for the Star Wars theme song.