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Is Oscar Gatto Peter Sagan’s secret Flanders weapon?

Sagan will start Sunday's Tour of Flanders as one of the favorites to win, and his right-hand man on the road will be Oscar Gatto.

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GENT, Belgium (VN) — Peter Sagan will line up as a five-star favorite for victory in Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders). With a second at E3-Harelbeke and a victory at Gent-Wevelgem, the Tinkoff rider seems primed to win his first monument.

What he won’t have is the high-profile support of some of his archrivals. Etixx – Quick-Step, Trek – Segafredo, BMC Racing, and Sky will all bring heavy hitters and impressive support riders to control the race.

Tinkoff is looking thinner compared to other top squads, at least in terms of marquee names behind Sagan, but the team is ready to surprise its deeper and more experienced rivals.

One of Sagan’s key helpers Sunday will be Oscar Gatto. The Tinkoff rider is among a new generation of Italian classics specialists, and he’s ready to bash shoulders with the top riders this weekend to protect Sagan’s flanks.

“All the northern classics are for Peter, without a doubt,” Gatto told VeloNews. “I’ve seen Peter even more motivated than ever to do big things in the rainbow jersey. He doesn’t change, because he always races to win, but it will be special for him as world champion.”

Tinkoff is hoping to deliver Sagan an elusive monument victory. So far, the otherwise prolific Slovakian has been unable to win a major, one-day race despite several close calls. Sagan’s chances at Milano-Sanremo last weekend were stymied when his sprint was disrupted after he had to steer around the crashing Fernando Gaviria of Etixx.

After skipping last Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen, Sagan was in top form at Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem. Gatto is Sagan’s most experienced teammate, with 19 career monument starts.

“This year is a big year for us. We have Sagan in the rainbow jersey, and he is a sure bet in these type of races. We will have a big responsibility in the classics,” Gatto said. “It only makes me more motivated.”

The 31-year-old Gatto got his chance at Dwars, in which he finished seventh, and he will get a few more shots in select races throughout the season. Over the next two weekends, his first priority is to help Sagan and then be ready in case something happens.

“The most important thing is to be present in the right moments,” he said. “The first tactic is always for Peter, but if something happens in the race, it’s important to be there to see if there’s an occasion to do something.”