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Late problems deflate Roubaix hopes for Sagan, Vanmarcke

The two riders entered the spring classics as top favorites but leave with nothing

ROUBAIX, France (VN) — They both came into the spring classics as top favorites. Two weeks later, they’ve both left with nothing.

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) each lined up in Compiègne with hopes of salvaging their spring campaigns at Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix. Both rode into the velodrome hoping for more and wondering what had gone wrong.

Sagan looked to be in good position in the final decisive throes of Roubaix. With about 6 kilometers to go, however, Sagan suddenly pulled off the road, threw his bike into a ditch, and was forced to change bikes.

He eventually regained contact with the chase group but was in no position to counter the race-making attacks so deep into the race.

Sagan crossed the line dusty and frustrated, 23rd at 31 seconds back. He was overheard at the velodrome infield speaking to a soigneur, cursing his luck, saying he could not change gears.

“An unknown issue with his shifters meant that he couldn’t move up to the big chain ring to make a move,” Tinkoff sport director Lars Michaelsen said in a team release. “We had to change the bike in the very finale, and we ended up with close to nothing if you look at the pure result.”

Perhaps nothing reflected Sagan’s classics woes than an emergency bathroom stop at sector 19 near Wallers, at just over 100km to go, right before the decisive Arenberg cobbles. The Slovak had to run into a ditch and take care of an urgent call from Mother Nature.

Sagan came into the spring classics with high hopes. After signing a multi-million-euro contract with Tinkoff-Saxo, he was expected by many to improve this season, but instead, he’s fallen short of victory. He was fourth at both Milano-Sanremo and Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), just missing podium spots, but was 30th at E3 Harelbeke and 10th at Gent-Wevelgem.

With just one win so far this season, Sagan will regroup and is expected to race at the Amgen Tour of California in May before returning to the Tour de France in July. By then, he will be hoping to forget his spring classics drama.

Things were equally as grim around the LottoNL bus. Team leader Vanmarcke also has been missing that winning kick so far through the spring classics, and the team had its fingers crossed the big Belgian could deliver victory.

Things looked promising enough, especially when Vanmarcke opened up an attack at sector six at Wannehain with under 30km to go. After a wheel change, two of his teammates towed him back to the front group, but he didn’t have the legs to follow the race-making moves. He was second in the bunch sprint behind Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) to finish 11th, but grumbled about his bad luck.

“I flatted exactly when my finale started. I’d just split up the group with an attack and felt strong,” Vanmarcke said. “I wanted to give my everything one more time and I thought that not many would be able to go with me, but destiny decided otherwise, and not for the first time
this spring.”

Vanmarcke had hoped to get in the mix for a classic victory prior to the season, but every time, it seemed something went wrong.

“Every time when it was crunch time this spring, something happened to me. It’s actually been a very annoying spring, and it’s been a spring of bad luck. I’ve become stronger, but I haven’t been able to show it,” he said. “I tried to make the most of the sprint, and there isn’t much shame finishing behind Kristoff. I left with my head held high.”

After two solid spring classics campaigns in 2013 and 2014, Vanmarcke was expected to step up and fill the void left by Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), both out with injuries. Instead, it was Kristoff and Roubaix winner John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) delivering the big wins. Though he was fifth at Harelbeke and sixth at Gent-Wevelgem, many are wondering if
Vanmarcke sees enough support at the Dutch-based LottoNL squad.

Unlike Sagan, who can win in sprints and other types of terrain, Vanmarcke is a pure classics rider and might have to wait another 12 months before he can try to pedal back onto center stage again.