OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — Questions surround what caused world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) to crash on the Oude Kwaremont while he fought to defend his Tour of Flanders title Sunday.
Television footage and photographs fail to clarify what let to the Slovakian’s fall with 16.9 kilometers remaining. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale), immediately behind, collided immediately and fell too.
“I hope again that all those phones that are around can show something new bring some light to what happened,” Bora sports director Patxi Vila said.
“Nothing will change, but we can understand what happened.”
A black jacket remained in Naesen’s bike and he ripped it out. Van Avermaet jumped to his feet the quickest and tried to catch his rivals.
“It was my fault, I don’t know,” said Sagan, who finished 27th at 3:30 minutes. “I was near the barrier, yeah, but I was controlling the space, how close I was.
“I was a little to the left, but… Every year, if you are doing it alone, you can do it. I was alone ahead and they were following me, but then I snagged on a pullover or I don’t know, some flag. Then the barrier was afterwards, I went towards the barrier.”
Cyclists riding close to the edge suffered because of fans over the years. Lance Armstrong’s handlebars caught a spectator’s bag in the Tour de France. In a Tour sprint, a green hand cut Thor Hushovd. Recently in Paris-Roubaix, a fan on a cobble sector caused Zdenek Stybar to crash.
“I think Peter Sagan was close to the barrier or the people and maybe he hit somebody on the side of the road,” Van Avermaet said.
“I was just behind so I couldn’t avoid the crash. That was the moment when maybe we could have still done something with Peter and Olivier Naesen. We could have worked together but then you stop, you crash, and you lose another 30 seconds, and then the race is over.”
Bora is unsure if Sagan was too close to the barriers. Vila wants to see more video footage, like the fan’s footage that showed Sagan body-check Maxime Vantomme (WB Veranclassic-Aqua Protect) on the Kemmelberg in Gent-Wevelgem last Sunday. Footage emerged four days later.
Sagan rode along the edge where the cobbles continue on the flat sector and the white VIP tents sit off to the side. He explained that he gave himself amble distance.
“I don’t know [if he was too close],” added Vila. “When you have a guy going full gas trying to win Flanders, then probably he’s trying to get every millimeter out of the road and every watt out of his legs, just pushing and trying to find the best line and that was probably too close, I don’t know.”
What is certain, at that point, Sagan’s chance of repeating his 2016 Flanders win ended. The team helped him with a new bike, but as Van Avermaet said, Gilbert already gained around 30 seconds more.
“I’m for sure not happy, no one is happy from the team,” Vila added.
“I think that nothing really happened to him. I hope not. What I saw in the last 10 kilometers, he was fine. Nothing is broken or nothing to worry about.”
“I don’t know,” Sagan explained when riding his bicycle from the anti-doping control to the hospital next door for check. He pointed to his right hip. “I have a problem here.”