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SOVICILLE, Italy (VN) — There was a familiar face in an unfamiliar jersey in the finish line sprint Tuesday — Peter Sagan.
Though fourth in stage 2 at Tirreno-Adriatico was far from victory for a bunch sprint, the top-5 was Sagan’s best result since he won the overall at the Slovakia tour in September.
“Fourth place? It could have been better, it could have been worse,” Sagan said after the stage. “They had the speed coming from behind.”
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Just seeing Sagan back in the mix is enough to warm hearts for the army of Sagan fans across the world.
Sagan is fighting back from a second COVID-19 infection this winter, and is hoping to regain form in time for the spring classics. In seven race days so far in 2022, his fourth-place Tuesday was the first top-10 since he switched to TotalEnergies in a high-profile deal.
Speaking before the stage, Sagan said it’s a race against time coming into the critical spring classics calendar.
“We will see how the legs are coming along,” Sagan said. “I am coming in late into the season. I hope the legs are good for the coming races. We’ll see.”
Sagan showed them off about four hours later.
TotalEnergies did a solid job protecting Sagan’s flanks and putting him into ideal position coming onto the finishing straight in the hilly, hard-fought stage. Sagan was quick to thank his new teammates for the work.
“It was important to be at the front in the final three kilometers,” Sagan said. “The team did a great job supporting me and they left me in perfect position.”
Sagan was bumping shoulders with eventual stage-winner Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix), and opened up his sprint perhaps a touch too early. Sagan could not hold the speed, and Merlier and two others came blasting past.
“It was not fighting, but we wanted to be on the same wheel. I let him pass me, because it was still a long way,” Merlier said. “Then I came off the wheel of Peter, so I am happy I can come out.”
It’s been a rough few seasons for Sagan, who’s twice been infected by COVID as well as suffering some injuries and crashes.
Earlier this week, Sagan refused to answer queries from journalists about his expectations for the upcoming classics campaign.
“I got COVID a second time in January,” Sagan said Sunday. “After a training camp in Gran Canaria, a race in France, and Het Nieuwsblad in Belgium, I had a little flu this week, but it is already passing and I hope to be better again here in Tirreno.”
Sagan clearly prefers to let his legs do the talking.
Fourth at Tirreno-Adriatico is an encouraging sign, but that’s a mere whimper compared to what he’ll need to win a race like Milan-San Remo or Tour of Flanders.
A win this week would confirm the Sagan Express could still arrive on time.