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Oh-so-close for Peter Sagan again at Milano-Sanremo

Another fourth place is an encouraging sign for Peter Sagan ahead of Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, yet frustratingly close in a race he's never won.

Milano-Sanremo might be a race Peter Sagan never wins.

The Slovakian superstar came closer than many expected Saturday, just missing the podium with fourth after fending off a COVID-19 infection this winter, but it’s one more year slipping by without victory down the Via Roma.

“It was a bittersweet Milano-Sanremo for me. On the one hand, I’m happy because I’m feeling better and my form is gradually improving,” Sagan said. “On the other hand, I’m a bit angry because it was another Milano-Sanremo where I missed the chance to get a victory.”

On paper, Milano-Sanremo is a race tailor-made for Sagan’s attributes. In 11 San Remo starts, he’s missed the top-10 only twice. He’s been second twice, and fourth some five times.

Uncharacteristically, Sagan didn’t start as a five-star favorite Saturday. After struggling at Tirreno-Adriatico following his bout with COVID-19, many didn’t expect to see him in the mix.

Sagan was gapped after coming over the Cipressa, but solid teamwork by Bora-Hansgrohe saw him escorted back to the front group in time to take on the Poggio.

Max Schachmann, a winner at Paris-Nice last week, followed some searing attacks over the Poggio, and Sagan fought back on to contest the sprint down the Via Roma.

“There was a small dangerous situation when Peter found himself in the second group after Cipressa but [Cesare] Benedetti was with him and worked to take him to the front,” said sport director Enrico Poitschke. “On the Poggio, Max was very strong, responded to all the attacks while Peter came back. In the end, he had a strong sprint and took fourth. That’s a very nice result after his sickness and the hard times he went through in the last weeks and months. A little bit more was possible, we saw he was very fast, and that was nice.”

Also read: Peter Sagan: ‘I want to be ready for Flanders and Roubaix’

Sagan will skip next week’s classics at E3 Saxo Classic and Gent-Wevelgem, two races he’s won, to race instead at Volta a Catalunya, a race he’s never started. Why? Another hard week of racing will give him a better chance of hitting top form in time for Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix next month.

“There is still work to be done to reach a top level,” Sagan said. “When the attack was made on the Poggio, a small group went away and I was in the one right behind, together with other strong riders. We didn’t respond to the attack, either because we couldn’t or because we felt we would bridge the gap on the descent. The two front groups merged and it was clear we would go for a fast sprint finish. I gave my best in the sprint and finished fourth.”