HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — Peter Sagan complained of tactics not fitness in the E3 Harelbeke, a race dominated by Quick-Step Floors and its star Niki Terpstra.
Bora-Hansgrohe’s three-time world champion again missed the podium, after falling short last Saturday as well in Milano-Sanremo. That day, it was Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) who spoiled the show. On Friday, a crash and Quick-Step’s dominance ruined his — and many others’ — chances.
“A bad day? No, I don’t think so. I crashed once, but nothing heavy. Also, I was lucky,” Sagan said.
“I saw some of the guys playing games with me also. Like, ‘Are you going to pull?’ Then they attack. But OK, it’s going to be better.”
Sagan is entering the one-day season with sixth in Milano-Sanremo and 26th in East Flanders on Friday. Being the world champion, though, all eyes are on the 28-year-old Slovak. Knowing his dominance and deep palmarès, everyone seems to fear that he could turn a race on its head at any moment — which could be the reason for the “games” being played.
Much of Sagan’s day was ruined by a mega-crash at 100 kilometers left in the 206-kilometer WorldTour event. Riders shot left and right into the ditches, others were over the road. Sagan lost three helpers who arrived to the team bus after the race by car with ripped shorts.
Sagan’s shorts were actually ripped from an earlier crash, but he escaped without serious consequences. When the race regrouped from the later crash, Quick-Step had control. Yves Lampaert and Niki Terpstra attacked. Sagan tried to follow but marked by Quick-Step star Philippe Gilbert, he could not make much of a difference.
Short on words, but to the point, he said, “Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. That’s life.”
The bad became worse when Sagan faded from the group on the Paterberg, which will feature so heavily in the Tour of Flanders next Sunday.
“It was a hard race for me, I didn’t feel very well,” he said. “What happened? In the end, I was a little bit tired. It was hard to stay at the front. Sunday will be better I think.”
Sagan won E3 Harelbeke in 2014. He won Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem twice. And Flanders, in its 100th year, he won in the rainbow jersey. He can afford to relax even when others like Quick-Step take control for one race.
“[Quick-Step] pulled really hard for some kilometers and afterwards they split the peloton because there was a big crash. It was hard to chase back to the front. They were strong. For sure,” he said.
“We were in the front, but afterwards, there were the crashes. We stayed in the front with our guys, who were pulling before, but they were dropped because they were tired.
“Other guys who were fresh, they crashed. I stayed in the front with Daniel Oss. He tried to chase the first two guys, but after the attacking, he’d come back again, then another attack, he came back again, but he was tired afterwards. Like me!”