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The three-time world champion Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) won the Tour of Flanders in 2016. He was part of a 15-man group that trailed behind after Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) attacked on the Oude Kwaremont with 18km to race.
“There are guys who want to cooperate but there are riders like Sagan who just do explosive accelerations, which kills the speed straight after,” van Aert told Wielerflits.
The Belgian three-time world cyclocross champion formed part of the group with Sagan. However, they could not pull back the freed Italian, who won by 14 seconds.
Van Aert settled for 14th place. Sagan was 11th.
“It was a really tough race,” van Aert added. “This was the best we could do. I didn’t have much left in the end.”
He shined in the series of one-day races this spring after closing out his cyclocross season. In Italy, he placed third in Strade Bianche and sixth in Milano-Sanremo.
In Belgium, he placed second behind Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) in the E3 BinckBank Classic. Finishing 29th in the group in Gent-Wevelgem after an impressive Jumbo-Visma show indicated van Aert was ready for Flanders, which proved too difficult for him to win in his second participation.
“Until the Kwaremont I had the feeling I could go for more, but when Bettiol attacked I couldn’t follow him,” said the 24-year-old.
“I hoped and thought the peloton would split into groups much faster. That didn’t happen.
“I would have liked us to work together behind Bettiol, but it is always difficult to find good cooperation in such a large group of favorites.”
“In the end, the strongest rider wins the race,” Jumbo-Visma sport director Grischa Niermann said. “If they had been able, the favorites would have joined Bettiol on the Kwaremont. Fourteenth is not the result that we had aimed for.
“We have a young team and we cannot expect miracles. As a team, we were not as strong today as in recent weeks. That is a pity, but next week we will try again on the way to Roubaix.”
Van Aert, after placing 13th in his debut last year, will line up again for Paris-Roubaix this Sunday. He ends his one-day campaign with the Amstel Gold Race the following week.