BRUSSELS (VN) — Peter Sagan rolled into the Roubaix velodrome like a wounded lion, not leading the race but discreetly at 5:12 back in 38th place.
His dirty, dust-covered Bora-Hansgrohe jersey told the story. A furtive wave to the crowd, which erupted into cheers at the sight of the world champion, wasn’t what he was expecting in the 115th edition of “Hell of the North.”
BMC Racing’s Greg Van Avermaet was already deep into TV interviews by the time Sagan collapsed into the arms of a waiting soigneur.
“It was an unlucky day,” Sagan later said. “As I said before, in order to win Roubaix, you need more than good form and legs.”
Sagan seemed to have the legs, but he certainly didn’t have the luck. Two ill-timed punctures at critical moments of the race doomed the Slovakian to also-ran status.
Sagan’s result certainly didn’t reflect his performance. He was well-placed throughout what was the fastest Roubaix on record, and was poised to blow up the race. With 77 kilometers to go, Sagan displayed his intent on breaking the deadlock on the peloton by unleashing an attack with teammate Maciej Bodnar in tow. But just as soon as he carved open a gap, he suffered the first of two key punctures, leaving Daniel Oss (BMC Racing) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), who had hitched a ride, to continue the action.
After a hard effort, Sagan managed to chase back on and attacked again to up the pace of the chasing group, but he punctured again as Van Avermaet and others forged ahead to take over the pulse of the race. Sagan was frustratingly out of the frame, and he rode into the velodrome floating out of place between two chase groups.
It was hardly the ending Bora wanted in its first spring classics program with the flamboyant two-time defending world champion.
“Sagan’s two punctures changed Roubaix for us today,” Bora sport director Jan Valach said. “Peter spent a lot of energy chasing back from the first puncture, and when he suffered a second puncture, that was probably the end of it.”
Sagan’s 2017 classics campaign concludes with his results not lining up with the impact he had on the racing. He comes away only with one major win, at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Though some observers chastised his team and even suggested Sagan was not in top form, Sagan was a protagonist in every race he started.
He came within a hair of winning Milano-Sanremo, blowing up the race on the Poggio before Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) pipped him at the line. Van Avermaet seemed to have his number this year, beating him straight up at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and at Gent-Wevelgem that set the tone for the northern classics.
Sagan was always the menacing presence, but Van Avermaet had the consistency and team to deliver the results.
Sagan’s crash at Tour of Flanders, in which he brought down Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Van Avermaet after clipping a jersey that was hanging over the barriers on the Oude Kwaremont, seemed to define Sagan’s classics this year. He was trying to thread the needle but ended up getting stung.
Sagan will pull the plug on his classics and regroup for the Amgen Tour of California. After a likely start at the Tour de Suisse, Sagan will be taking on Van Avermaet once again at the Tour de France.
With still only one monument win on his resume, the classics will have to wait for another year for the peloton’s most prolific rider.