ROESELARE, Belgium (VN) — Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) has already won the Tour of Flanders, three world championships and so much more. He is not afraid of losing the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, but concerned with showing he is the best.
Sagan returned to Belgium this week after winning Gent-Wevelgem last Sunday. He previewed the multiple cobble sectors and the climbs that make up the Belgian monument he will face.
“It’s easy,” he said when asked about those rivals who might spend the day riding in his wake. “Are we going to win and show who’s the best, or are we going to lose the race? It’s easy.”
Sagan silenced critics with his ride in Gent-Wevelgem. The voices were becoming louder after he had gone nearly three months without a win and missed several opportunities in Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo, and E3 Harelbeke.
He is the favorite ahead of Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal). Some would say, however, that he still may not be up to favorite status or at that level that allowed him to win his three world titles and Flanders in 2016.
Even Sagan said after his Ghent-Wevelgem win that it was easier than his other two titles in 2013 and 2016.
“Sometimes it’s better not to think about it and just do the things. Not focus on what was before and just focus on what is today and tomorrow,” Sagan said.
“Cyclists go on feelings? It’s a matter of personality and what’s inside, not what somebody tells you.”
Sagan with teammate Marcus Burghardt made the elite 23-man group off the Kemmelberg in Gent-Wevelgem and benefited from Quick-Step Floors, who put their four men to work to bring it to a sprint for Elia Viviani. Sagan blasted up the left for his third Gent-Wevelgem title and Viviani, somewhat trapped on the right, settled for second.
“It wasn’t a race of me against Quick-Step or me against Greg, everybody was there. All of the fastest riders were there with the exception maybe of Alexander Kristoff,” added Sagan.
“I thought about how it could go. In the end, I had a card to play, Burghardt was with me in the group, and Elia had two or three teammates who could have decided to attack or to ride for a sprint. They decided to ride for a sprint and I concentrated only doing my sprint, to win, not to beat somebody or to have bad thoughts – just to win.”
Sagan always has attention on him with his quickly growing palmarès and the rainbow jersey on his back. Now his rivals have a reminder from Gent-Wevelgem to never let their guards down when Sagan lines up for a race.
“It’s always better to have something then not. I’m happy now, we are more relaxed as a team with the Gent-Wevelgem win. And for myself, it’s always good to have some victories. But it all depends on what will happen in Flanders [if I’m a marked man or not].”
Quick-Step not only races with 2017 victor Philippe Gilbert, but Zdenek Stybar, Niki Terpstra, and recent Dwars door Vlaanderen winner Yves Lampaert. That strength last year allowed Gilbert an extra amount of slack to attack from 55.5 kilometers out.
“Quick-Step would like to take the responsibility in the race early, that’s what I expect. We saw that last Sunday,” said general manager Ralph Denk.
“We weren’t the team with the most riders in the top group, but in the end, Peter won. Our goal is to bring him in a good position in the final and to protect him well with Burghardt or Oss. Then everything is possible for Peter.”
Sagan gave a nod to his team, which always has workhorse Burghardt and new hire Daniel Oss. Oss left Greg Van Avermaet’s side switching from Team BMC Racing over the winter.
“I think our team improved a lot from last year,” Sagan added. “In every race, that’s important. We are a good team for the classics but for the entire season. It will also depend on luck, good and bad, but I think we are strong enough and with the power, to be in the front in Flanders.”