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Even without Peter Sagan, TotalEnergies keeps pushing in the Belgian classics

TotalEnergies is proving it's more than the ‘Sagan Show’ and packs two classics podium finishes in 2022 despite ongoing health issues from Peter Sagan.

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KORTRIJK, Belgium (VN) — Peter Sagan will miss the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, but his TotalEnergies squad is committed to fill the void.

The three-time world champion is hoping a late-hour respite will help him recover in time to take on Paris-Roubaix on April 17. Hounded by illness, Sagan has been playing catch-up all spring.

The French second-tier team is proving this spring it’s more than the “Peter Sagan Show.”

“For sure when a big champion is missing on the team there is always something not good and different,” TotalEnergies’ Daniel Oss told VeloNews. “We still have a lot of energy inside the team. The motivation and vibe is very high around the team.”

The 2016 Flanders winner Sagan has been struggling with health issues across the winter and into the spring, first with a COVID-19 infection and then a bout of the stomach flu that took out so many riders at Tirreno-Adriatico.

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Sagan, 32, showed hints of his former self with fourth in a tough stage at Tirreno-Adriatico and fifth at Milano-Torino but struggled to match the distance and speed at Milan-San Remo and E3 Saxo Bank Classic.

He pulled out of Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, and decided to pull the plug on De Ronde with hopes of being healthy and ready to challenge for Paris-Roubaix.

Hoping to hang with the favorites at Tour of Flanders

(Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

In his absence and struggles, other riders on the team are stepping up. Anthony Turgis was second at Milan-San Remo and Dries Van Gestel hit the podium with third at Gent-Wevelgem.

The combination of Turgis for the sprint and riders like Van Gestel for breakaways is giving the team an added dimension across the classics.  On Sunday, at Gent-Wevelgem, the team played that tactic perfectly, allowing Van Gestel to mark the moves, with Turgis saving his legs for a reduced bunch sprint.

“It was no mistake that I was in the breakaway because I cannot trust my sprint at the end of a long race,” Van Gestel said Sunday. “Turgis said he would save himself for the sprint, and I couldn’t let anyone get away. My podium is the culmination of a strong sprint. A podium at Gent-Wevelgem is my best result ever. We have a lot of confidence inside the team and we will keep it going.”

The arrival of Sagan was meant to raise the team’s profile, but so far, it’s been other riders delivering the big early-season results. TotalEnergies boasts five wins and two classics podiums thanks to its deep back-bench of riders.

Oss said the feeling within the French team remains high despite Sagan’s ongoing health issues.

“We had a good ride at Gent-Wevelgem and at San Remo,” Oss said. “We will see in Flanders. We have Turgis and Dries, and we have a lot of chances because the team is running really good.”

Former Flanders-Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra and Edvald Boasson Hagen are both veterans who know how to handle the monument-level races.

On Sunday, the team also brings Maciej Bodnar to the core classics group, providing even more depth to protect the team’s two riders on top form right now with Turgis and Van Gestel.

Despite a heavy crash Sunday at Gent-Wevelgem that saw him fall into a muddy ditch, Oss said he is OK to race for Flanders. He finished Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, and is jazzed for Flanders.

Oss said the key in the big monuments like Flanders or Paris-Roubaix, at least for a rider like himself, is to try be up the road early against the likes of Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel.

“It’s good to anticipate maybe in the middle of the race is a good moment for others like me. Like in Harelbeke, when you anticipate you have a better chance to be in the front,” Oss said. “I am feeling good. Compared to a lot of other guys in the peloton who are not feeling so good. A lot of riders had health issues.”