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Mechanical derails Sagan at E3 BinckBank Classic

Former E3 winner Peter Sagan says his form is on track, but a late-race mechanical ruins his outing in Harelbeke, Belgium.

HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — Peter Sagan’s bumpy spring campaign continued Friday when a late-race mechanical took him out of the frame for victory.

The Bora-Hansgrohe star unexpectedly sat up coming into the decisive, late-race surges at E3 BinckBank Classic. Unable to change gears, Sagan couldn’t follow arch-rival Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team), who was driving the lead group. Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) went on to win the race.

Sagan admitted it wasn’t just a mechanical glitch that cost him a shot at victory.

“It was a little bit of both,” Sagan said when asked if it was his bike or his legs that were giving him problems. “I had a little problem with my shifter. Something hit my [shifter] during the race, and it re-set. After that, I only had the 11 [-tooth cog]. After the mechanic re-set it again, it was working well, but it was in the crucial moment when Greg attacked on the climb. I was dropped and I stayed on the group behind.”

Team officials surmised that a rival’s water bottle struck Sagan’s shifter, leaving it unable to properly function. Sagan later drifted back to the Bora-Hansgrohe team car, and a team mechanic leaned out to make an adjustment. By that point, the race had already gone up the road. Sagan crossed the line 17th at 1:42 in the second chase group behind winner Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step).

Bora-Hansgrohe sport director Jan Valach insisted that Sagan is on track with his training and preparation, and vowed to come out swinging for Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem.

“He was there in the important group,” Valach said. “And then he had that problem with the bike, and the mechanic had to do his job, not Peter. At that point, the race was breaking apart. Peter had to slow down, and he lost contact with the front riders.”

Sagan is coming into the crucial classics campaign looking good, but so far without hints of brilliance that set him apart from a highly competitive field of classics stars. He made the select group at Milan-Sanremo, and just missed the podium with fourth. On Friday, he was in the right moves, but other riders seemed to have the spark in their legs.

For any other rider, being in the mix is a good sign. For Sagan at this stage in his career, only a big win — or perhaps a Greg Van Avermaet-style exhibition at Harelbeke — counts.

“Peter is going well,” Valach insisted. “It’s just that this first race after Sanremo is not easy to do. So it’s always a test.”

Sagan won Harelbeke in 2014 just as he was starting to impose himself on the peloton. Those close to Sagan say that he generally tends to go better in Gent-Wevelgem, a race he’s won three times.

Valach knows there are only a few chances to win during the spring classics, and says the team will regroup ahead of Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem.

“All these big races are important. If we win one of them, it will be good,” Valach said. “Peter always takes time to get used to these cobbled classics after Sanremo. We will do our best to do a good race as a team, so let’s see how we do.”

Sagan took it all in stride. After chatting with journalists outside the team bus, he signed a few autographs and jumped into a team car. Last year, he also was a bit slow out of the gates, only to win Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix.

“It was OK, I didn’t crash,” Sagan said. “It is like a lottery if you feel good in this race. After Sanremo, there is recovery and you don’t train much. Every year is different. We’ll see Sunday how I feel.”