Peter Sagan, Cannondale brass outline classics campaign

Boonen, Cancellara and a general unwillingness to do Sagan any favors are roadblocks in the young Slovak's spring campaign

GHENT, Belgium (VN) — Peter Sagan spent Saturday afternoon in Kortrijk, Belgium, analyzing Friday’s E3 Harelbeke with Cannondale’s top brass. While snow fell outside Hotel Kennedy’s windows, they made their war plan for the remainder of his classics campaign.

“He’s never happy when he loses,” general manager Roberto Amadio told VeloNews. “However, when you explain to him where he made a mistake, how he may have given the race away, he understands and accepts the defeat.”

Amadio and sports director Stefano Zanatta ordered espressos and chatted quickly in Italian. Sagan, from Slovakia, spoke fluently. English is his third language.

The plan consisted of arrows, ratings and question marks. Tom Boonen and his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team got the most attention. Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard), winner on Friday, was also a concern. And Sky, noted Amadio, is impressive.

Super Sagan

The 23-year-old is coming off an impressive season. Last year, he won stages in most major stage races, including three victories and the green jersey in the Tour de France. He placed well in the classics, too: Milano-Sanremo (fourth), Ghent-Wevelgem (second), Ronde van Vlaanderen (fifth) and Amstel Gold Race (third).

He says he wants to win one of those classics this year. He is off to a good start, winning two hard stages in Tirreno-Adriatico, placing second in Sanremo, and taking second again Friday in Harelbeke.

“We still have a week [until Ronde], with Ghent-Wevelgem [Sunday]. Sanremo and Harelbeke, second in each one. … My condition is good,” Sagan told the press Friday.

“I’ve already said it — it’s hard to win a classic, any race is hard to win. I think I’m going well, though, with two second places. Maybe now everyone is expecting big things [in Ronde].”

Sagan’s problem

Sagan smiled and concentrated in Kortrijk’s Hotel Kennedy. He listened to the Italians, breathed in the espresso’s aroma and talked about how he can reach his goal.

Those question marks on the paper indicate problematic scenarios. One is what Cannondale witnessed Friday: Cancellara shot free on the Kwaremont, Sagan suffered at the top on the flat cobbled section and found few friendly faces behind.

None of his companions in the chase group — Geraint Thomas (Sky), Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Daniel Oss (BMC Racing) or Sebastian Langeveld (Orica-GreenEDGE) — was motivated to catch Cancellara. If they joined, Sagan would surely have won the sprint.

“The others start to think about saving energy,” Sagan said. “They don’t want to take me to the sprint.”

“That was part of the problem,” Amadio added. “Behind [Sagan’s group], there were something like four Sky and four Omega Pharma riders. If they all worked together then they could pull Cancellara back. But, Sky didn’t want to put Boonen back into the game and had Thomas up the road.”

Good signs

The Italians drew more arrows and lines on the paper. The snow kept falling outside. Espressos kept arriving.

Though it was rumored that snow might cancel Ghent-Wevelgem, they continued to plan for it and Driedaagse van De Panne. Their attention eventually turnws to the big one, Ronde van Vlaanderen.

“E3 Harelbeke was a grande risultato because of what he and the team accomplished after he had to change his bike,” Amadio said.

“Flanders will be something else, 260 kilometers. Boonen is still improving. And, clearly, if Cancellara is able to do something like that again, it’ll be hard for us. We’re not going to start already defeated, though. With a little bit of luck, Peter can be among the likely winners.”

Given the careful planning and Sagan’s results so far, there is every reason to believe Sagan will win.