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It’s not, ‘How can I win a race?’ It’s, ‘How can I beat Peter Sagan?’

Peter Sagan's Bora-Hansgrohe team says that rivals ride more against its ace than they for victory itself.

WEVELGEM, Belgium (VN) — Peter Sagan‘s Bora-Hansgrohe team, after Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) refused to pull today in Gent-Wevelgem, says that rivals ride more against its ace than they for victory itself.

The Dutch Paris-Roubaix winner eased off with 16 kilometers left and let Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott) and eventual winner Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) ride clear to victory.

Bora’s directors climbed out of their team cars in Wevelgem’s busy center and, shaking their heads in disbelief, waited for Sagan to arrive.

“And Terpstra! Yeah, maybe it’s like I said before. It’s not, ‘How can I win a race? It’s more, ‘How can I beat Peter Sagan?'” Jens Zemke told Velonews.

“Peter was leading that five-man group, he pulls off and was going to the back, and then they leave a gap in front of him for him to close. That’s something you don’t do normally.”

Sagan pulled off and left Van Avermaet to lead Keukeleire, Terpstra and young Dane Søren Andersen (Sunweb). Sagan looked over to see Terpstra’s legs stop turning and the space between Terpstra’s front wheel and Keukeleire’s rear increasing.

They raced away and Sagan eventually had to chase. After winning E3 Harelbeke on Friday, Olympic champion Van Avermaet added the Gent-Wevelgem trophy to his case by sprinting ahead of Keukeleire.

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World Champion Sagan salvaged third place in Belgium’s WorldTour classic that he won last year and in 2013. He pulled back his long hair under a baseball cap and sat in the mixed zone afterwards, where journalists leaned in closely to hear what he had to say.

“I just don’t know what Terpstra wanted to do,” Sagan explained.

“He attacked to go in the breakaway and afterwards he doesn’t want to work. This is just one example of how you can lose the race against me.”

Fans saw a similar story unfold last weekend in Italy, where Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step) and eventual winner Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) forced Sagan to work in Milano-Sanremo.

“It’s normal that they watch Peter, he’s super strong and the man to watch. He’s the main to beat,” Zemke continued.

“Maybe Greg should wear the Olympic jersey because everyone is watching the rainbow one and Greg keeps winning.

“You’ll have to ask Quick-Step what they were thinking.”

Quick-Step’s bus sat further down Wevelgem’s main street. Former cyclist and sports director Wilfried Peeters walked around the back while Terpstra spoke at the door.

“It’s like a game, some times you win, sometimes you lose,” Peeters said.

“Just that initial reaction, that reaction cost the victory. To close that gap is hard when it’s opened.”

Quick-Step’s game, however, was to force the pre-race favorite Sagan to tire himself while Terpstra said that he had Fernando Gaviria, Tom Boonen, and Matteo Trentin behind. Andersen played similar tactics, naming Sunweb teammate Michael Matthews.

“The option was not to go full-gas in the break when we had strong riders behind,” Peeters said. “I like Sagan and he’s there every time there, but we don’t need to pull like an animal in the front when you have the fastest sprinter behind.”

Sagan will try to revenge the “cheap game” in next Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), a race that he also won in 2016.

“It’s not disappointment, but I’m more motivated,” Sagan said. “If you win always, then maybe you lose motivation.

“Now, I’m motivated to take some victory, but this is not sport, just a very cheap game.”