Peter Sagan's team director admits Bora-Hansgrohe had no other cards to play at Milano-Sanremo, faced with Quick-Step and Team Sky.
FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Peter Sagan made the right moves in the Milano-Sanremo final Saturday despite placing second, says Bora-Hansgrohe’s general manager, Ralph Denk.
The Slovakian world champion attacked with 6.3 kilometers to race, 900 meters before reaching the Poggio hilltop village, and pulled most of the way down and into Sanremo. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) hitched a ride, and in the final 20 meters, Kwiatkowski powered up the left and passed Sagan by 20 centimeters in the sprint.
“It was a great ride,” Denk told VeloNews with the team bus’s motor running and the riders arriving to shower. Sagan stood on the podium’s second-highest step nearby on the Via Roma finish straight.
“He was the strongest rider in the bunch in my opinion. Maybe he was too aggressive in the last three to five kilometers, [and] in the end, we missed the big victory.”
Frenchman Alaphilippe pulled some and Pole Kwiatkowski appeared at the front twice. Afterward, Kwiatkowski, 26, planted himself on Sagan’s rear wheel for the final kilometer and came to the front when the line neared.
Some suggested Sagan, already second in 2013 to Gerald Ciolek, should have raced more with his head than with his heart. Perhaps if he eased up more, since they had around a 15-second advantage, he could have forced his rivals ahead.
“It wasn’t possible,” said Denk. “The tactic for Quick-Step was to wait for Fernando Gaviria. They had more options. We were focused on Peter, and I think it was the right decision to take the race in hand. But it was a bit unlucky.”
Via Roma’s shop windows rattled from the fans screams when Sagan blasted away on the Poggio after Tom Dumoulin and team Sky’s work. It is as though he fronts a rock band called cycling and stepped on stage following a 280-kilometer warm-up act.
In the days leading up to the race, local newspapers and those abroad built him up as the favorite. Sagan earned the status with his two world titles and a season start that already included a Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne victory and two stages in Tirreno-Adriatico.
Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport on Saturday morning rang the early alarm bells, though. The pink newspaper ran a front-page photograph of long-haired Sagan dressed in a rainbow jersey with the title: “Tutti Contro Sagan” or “Everyone against Sagan.”
Given what Denk said were Bora’s limited options, Sagan was always going to have to beat the numbers to win in Sanremo. His teammates kept the race together after the Cipressa, but offered no plan B.
“Quick-Step has second options, Sky had second options, and we don’t have second options, we were focused on Peter. This is the reason why he pulled so hard,” Denk said.
“We have a strong team, but we have just one option; Sky and Quick-Step had strong teams but with more options. Finally, it was Peter who made the most of the work in the final descent and the final flat 2.5 kilometers. It was the right decision, but it was not enough in the end.”
Off of the podium, Sagan told a group of reporters, “We’ve only really started today. Next weekend, we’ve got Harelbeke and then Gent-Wevelgem, then Flanders, and Roubaix.”
Those races could be different for Sagan, as the Ronde van Vlaanderen was last year when he won. With the cobbles and multiple short climbs, the cream rises to the top sooner and the stars remain to battle from small groups.
“For us, it’s important that Peter is in good shape,” Denk added. “We have to take care of him. The classics in Belgium will be completely different.”
Listen to our discussion of Milano-Sanremo on the VeloNews podcast: