Sagan, 29, was struggling to keep pace when the final attacks went off the front, and he later abandoned the Dutch classic that he’s never won.
The three-time world champion told Slovakian TV that he was feeling the hard effort from last weekend’s Paris-Roubaix.
“It wasn’t important to fight for 40th or 50th, so I pulled out,” Sagan told RTVS. “Last week was very difficult and when you look at the other riders who started Paris-Roubaix, none of them were at the front today.”
Sunday’s rare abandon for Sagan in a one-day race is the latest in what’s been an uneven spring campaign for the Slovakian superstar.
Promising results of fourth at Milano-Sanremo and fifth at Paris-Roubaix don’t tell the full story. Sagan has admittedly been off his best this spring. And while two near-podiums in the important monument season might be good enough for most, for a rider as successful and consistent as Sagan, his spate of uneven performances is leaving more question marks than answers.
Sagan fell ill this spring during his preparations, but everyone inside Bora-Hansgrohe was confident he would be at full strength in time for the important northern classics period. A fourth at Milano-Sanremo seemed a good indication things were on the right foot.
Sagan was in the mix at Gent-Wevelgem in an early breakaway, and suffered a mechanical at E3 Binckbank Classic, but he was clearly missing his explosive best at Tour of Flanders. Though he finished 11th in the front chase group, he was lacking his trademark sparkle on bergs.
“I am not like I was three years ago,” Sagan said after Flanders. “I’m not 100 percent like years before, but every year is different, and I have to just accept it.”
Just as fast, things were looking up at Paris-Roubaix when he barreled into the front group as defending champion, but he could not follow the explosive pace of eventual winner Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) on the Carrefour de l’Arbre.
Sagan started Sunday as the team leader, but it was Max Schachman who saved the day for Bora-Hansgrohe with fifth.
“Peter wasn’t able to follow on the hard climbs, but Maximilian was very strong in the finale,” said Bora-Hansgrohe sport director Enrico Poitschke. “It wasn’t what we were aiming, and we wanted to go for the win with Peter. But still, overall, we can be satisfied with the performance of our young riders. We look forward to the upcoming races and we are sure Peter will come back.”
Sagan is expected to race Liège-Bastogne-Liège next weekend, and possibly Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday. A route change in the Liège finale is tempting Sagan to race the Ardennes monument for the first time of his career. A big result Sunday will put everything back into place on Planet Sagan.
When asked about pressure before Paris-Roubaix two weeks ago, Sagan was philosophical about his spring campaign.
“Always the same questions, what is pressure?” Sagan said. “You cannot change anything. We are going to race, and we are going to do our best, then what happens, will happen. What more can you do?”