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Peter Sagan on Tour of Flanders: ‘It is going to be strange to race without fans’

Slovak star remains cagey on his chances for a second Flanders victory as he begins finding form post-coronavirus.

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Don’t look now, but Peter Sagan just arrived in Belgium and is ready to race in the Tour of Flanders this Sunday.

While much of the Bora-Hansgrohe classics squad was in quarantine after Matthew Walls tested positive for COVID-19 just before the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, Sagan was racing — and winning — in the Volta Catalunya.

Arriving to his team hotel in Belgium on Thursday, Sagan admitted that his condition was improving quickly and he is almost back to his best after testing positive for coronavirus himself in early February.

“It was a difficult start of the season because I tested positive for COVID at a training camp in the Grand Canary Islands. But since then I did Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo and Catalunya,” Sagan told VeloNews on Friday. “So I am coming here with almost a grand tour behind me. We will see.”

Also read: ‘Expect the unexpected:’ Nothing is certain ahead of this year’s Tour of Flanders

Few races inspire Sagan like the Ronde van Vlaanderen, which he won with a memorable solo breakaway while wearing the rainbow-striped jersey of world champion back in 2016. But he was quick to admit that this year’s edition will be a strange one for numerous reasons.

Firstly there will be the lack of fans that are such a part of the race due to the strict sanitary measures placed on race organizers as Belgium, like much of Europe, faces a third wave of COVID.

“That is going to be strange,” Sagan said clearly. “For as long as I have raced Flanders it is like the world championships when it comes to the fans. They are just so intense here. It is even more intense than Paris-Roubaix because we finish on this big circuit and it is just packed with fans. You can see them. They are pushing each other. They are screaming. It is crazy! So yeah it is very strange not to race with fans in Flanders.”

Sagan also knows the race dynamics have changed considerably this year as up-and-coming stars like Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel grab more and more headlines with their countless attacks and frequent victories. But they both came up short in Milano-Sanremo and many observers feel that they may on the back side of their condition.

Also read: Marked men: Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel, and ‘Peter Sagan syndrome’

Still though, they more than Sagan, will take the start as the heavy favorites. But that is just fine with the 31-year-old Slovakian rider.

“There is going to a real battle between Van Aert and van der Poel, but we are racing a lot of riders,” Sagan observed. “The weather could also play a role. It has been really hot and now it is cold. Some riders handle big changes in weather better than others.”

When asked about his own chances, however, Sagan remained typically cagey.

“I will try. But you know how it is. We will see!”