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Sagan looks ahead to last chance at a monument in Roubaix

Slovak champion tries to put Flanders behind him with one final shot at a monument victory Sunday at Paris-Roubaix

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ANTWERP, Belgium (VN) — With just one more chance to score a monument victory in this spring classics season, Peter Sagan is trying to put his disappointments behind him and think ahead to Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix.

A year after finishing second at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), Sagan (Cannondale) could only manage 16th on Sunday after missing Fabian Cancellara’s winning move.

“I wasn’t down about the result because some races are just like that. You know, I can’t win everything,” Sagan told reporters. “One time it goes fine and one time no. Every year is different and this year it was just like that.”

The 24-year-old Slovak champion struggled to get back to the leaders at De Ronde after the Oude Kwaremont. In fact, he found little cooperation from those around him, including Sky’s Geraint Thomas and Wanty’s Björn Leukemans.

“The races are that way. Maybe I can manage the final kilometers better next time, but for sure, it would’ve been difficult to win,” said Sagan. “I would’ve been able to get in the top 10 if I’d managed the final better, but it went the way it went.”

Cannondale manager Roberto Amadio told VeloNews after the race that Sagan saw his chance slip away and probably lost morale. “And morale is important,” he said.

Sagan’s morale seemed higher with his wheelies and podium pinches last year. He lost Cancellara’s wheel in Flanders, but was clearly the best of the rest as he held his own to finish second ahead of Jürgen Roelandts. Happy and carefree, he reached out and pinched a podium girl’s rear end in front of television camera during the podium presentation. He apologized later and said, “It was wrong. I wasn’t thinking.” A week-and-a-half later, he won Brabantse Pijl.

Sagan picked up where he left off in the northern classics. He won E3 Harelbeke and the first stage of Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde (Three Days of De Panne), and finished third at Gent-Wevelgem. But he has found disappointment in the season’s first two monuments, finishing 10th at Milano-Sanremo and 16th at Flanders. At the start of the GP Scheldeprijs on Wednesday, he gave little away about his Roubaix chances.

“Flanders was hard, but I’m thinking ahead to Roubaix. I also need to train to get ready. I was resting for the last two days, so this race helps maintain my form for Roubaix,” he said. “It was normal that they were racing against me in Flanders. I don’t know if it’ll be that way on Sunday in Roubaix, but if I’m up ahead, it’ll probably be the same. They all know that I can be there [and sprint].”

Sagan will ride near the team’s hotel in Kortrijk, Belgium, Thursday. On Friday morning, he and his Cannondale teammates, including American Ted King, will head to France. The men in green will ride the final 100 kilometers of the Roubaix course in preparation for “The Hell of the North.”

Sagan finished second in the juniors’ Paris-Roubaix in 2008 and raced it twice after he turned professional. Though he has not started the cobbles finale in three years, he said at the start of the year that it was one of his major goals. He appeared less confident on Wednesday, and aware that his classics campaign could end without a monument win.

Right or wrong, the hammer may come down hard on the young star if he fails. Sagan’s critics spoke up after Milano-Sanremo. Former classics great Francesco Moser told La Gazzetta dello Sport, “Sagan went much better last year. Someone compared him to Eddy Merckx, but let’s take it easy. I see no sign of that.”

Amadio, however, said that Cannondale remains focused on Roubaix and not the critics.

“He needs to be thinking about a result,” Amadio said. “We need to believe in our chances until the end, until Paris-Roubaix finishes in the velodrome.”