Sagan needs Roubaix win to continue path to classics greatness

Peter Sagan is largely empty-handed in this spring's classics season. He has one last chance to earn a victory in Paris-Roubaix.

GENT, Belgium (VN) — The northern classics draw to a close Sunday and Peter Sagan has little in hand. A crash in Tour of Flanders ruined his opportunity to win and put his Paris-Roubaix chances in doubt. With just two days to go before his final clash with Tom Boonen (Quick-Step Floors), Sagan has everything on the line for his quest to become the new king of the classics.

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The UCI world champion snagged a fan’s jacket as he raced dangerously close to the barriers in last Sunday’s Tour of Flanders. He crashed on his hip and watched his chances of winning the race slip away.

Aside from victory in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, a smaller classic in Belgium, he has little to show so far this season. It all comes down to Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. Sagan not only needs to recover from his Flanders injuries, but to win in the Roubaix velodrome if he intends to one day become a classics great.

“He rode the Scheldeprijs [on Wednesday] to test himself with his mind on Sunday,” Bora-Hansgrohe sport director Enrico Poitschke told VeloNews. “We are going in a good way. For sure, he has some pain, but in the moment, everything is fine when he is on the bike.”

Sagan hobbled off the bike, but appeared fine on it in the mid-week race. He pulled his Bora team through the carnage of a crash four kilometers out and set up for Pascal Ackermann to place fifth.

As Poitschke said, Sagan’s mind is on Sunday. Sagan claimed two UCI world titles, but has few victories and many near misses as a classics man. To become one of the classic greats like Boonen, who retires after Paris-Roubaix, he needs more big wins soon.

Belgian Tom Boonen may not have danced in a “Grease” video or ridden wheelies, but he racked up four monuments already by the age of 27. Fabian Cancellara, who retired last year, had also won four before turning 27. Sagan, now 27, counts only one from last year’s Tour of Flanders.

If near-misses counted, Sagan would be an all-time great, but they do not. Sagan lit up Italian monument Milano-Sanremo with ferocious Poggio attack that sent vibrations as far as the Via Roma. He did all the work to arrive to Sanremo’s famous street, where rival attacker Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) sprinted past to victory.

“I know how it is,” said 2014 world champion Kwiatkowski. “He has big pressure on him, wearing the rainbow jersey puts you in a hard situation.”

Kwiatkowski attacked with Sagan but had his Sky teammate Elia Viviani waiting behind in the chase group to sprint at Sanremo. Though Sagan showed strongest, tactics won the day. A similar theme repeated itself over the weeks leading to this Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix.

Quick-Step’s Niki Terpstra refused to work with Sagan in Gent-Wevelgem. One week later, Sagan was sleeping ahead of the Muur and lacked team options when the race rode away toward Oudenaarde. His crash on the Oude Kwaremont distracted most followers from the bigger team strength issue.

Bora-Hansgrohe spent most of its money on signing Sagan from Tinkoff in the off-season. Little remained to buy four-star, or even three-star cyclists. Boonen’s Quick-Step, however, is loaded with them: Terpstra, Zdenek Stybar, Matteo Trentin, and Yves Lampaert.

“We where not stressed with the attack at 95 kilometers remaining [on the Muur],” said Poitschke. “If he didn’t crash, it would’ve worked out for him.

“The same for Paris-Roubaix, we have our tactics and for sure, we’ll be looking to other teams, but in the end, we have our own tactics and we don’t look too much to Quick Step, Trek or other teams.

“It’s important on the pavé sectors that you stay in good position. You need to start the sectors in very good position, that’s the important thing. And we will have to understand in the race on which sector we will try something, or just follow.”

When the dust settles Sunday, followers will know if Bora’s tactics succeeded and if Sagan is on a path to classics greatness.