Does Paris-Roubaix suit Sagan?

Opinions are mixed whether "The Hell of the North" is actually a race Sagan, the two-time defending world champion, can win.

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Peter Sagan blasted over the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix but came away empty-handed, leaving some asking if “The Hell of the North” is too much for him and if he would be better off saving himself for the Ardennes classics that begin with Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race.

The two-time defending world champion on team Bora-Hansgrohe suffered two punctures when he was in a lead group and finished an uncharacteristic 38th in the Roubaix velodrome.

“My idea would be that, skip Roubaix and come back for the Ardennes classics,” Stefano Zanatta said.

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Zanatta first saw Sagan mountain biking and brought him to the Liquigas/Cannondale franchise in 2009, when Sagan began to bag his first of many professional wins. With that team disbanded after merging with the Slipstream franchise, Zanatta now directs Bardiani-CSF — a team that’s racing Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl, an appetizer ahead of the three Ardennes classics.

“He wants to try to win Roubaix, he loves it. He went strongly, though, he had some bad luck,” Zanatta said of Sagan.

“But it’s not really in his characteristics. I thought that he could have more results in Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Here, it matters who has the legs, not just luck. He could make more of a difference.”

Liquigas/Cannondale did that. In 2012 and 2013, the team sat him out of Roubaix — where flat cobbled sectors and raw power make the difference — to save him for the various short, punchy climbs in the Ardennes. The move is similar to the one employed by Quick-Step Floors, which won the Tour of Flanders with Philippe Gilbert earlier this month. Quick-Step sat out Gilbert for the next few races on the calendar to give him a rest before Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl and the Ardennes.

Sagan “could win these races more ‘easily.’ It’d be like Gilbert,” added Zanatta. “Even Liège, yes. Now, he has improved on the climbs. Look at that Tirreno-Adriatico stage he won ahead of [Thibaut] Pinot and [Geraint] Thomas. For sure, he has more chances in the Ardennes.”

The cobbles of northern France took their toll on Sagan. After the 27-year-old fought back from two punctures, he looked unusually ragged racing over the final sectors leading to the Roubaix velodrome.

Bora manager Ralph Denk said Paris-Roubaix actually suits Sagan well.

“I think yes,” Denk said. “Just look back at the race, it underlined it. He was a contender. He’ll win this race one time.”

Bora sport director and coach Patxi Vila said, “I don’t think [Roubaix] was a race too much [for Sagan].

“It’s just that he had to go deep to claw back those two times and finally he paid. I’m pretty sure [his power] numbers were pretty high and pretty good. But yeah, I’m happy he was here. I think that the racers have to be here and Peter needs to be here.”

Critics seem to criticize regardless of what happens. Many insiders questioned the decision when Sagan skipped Roubaix to race the Ardennes classics in 2013. Others called for Gilbert to continue on to race Paris-Roubaix after a successful cobbled campaign. Opinions, however, could quickly change if Gilbert wins in the coming days.