COMPIÈGNE, France (VN) — Peter Sagan and the Bora-Hansgrohe team have been working toward Paris-Roubaix since last winter. Now the day is here.
The triple world champion starts “the most important classic” as the favorite after a spring that included winning Gent-Wevelgem and sixth in the Tour of Flanders.
“It’s an interesting race, a lot of history, and the most important classic from the first part of the season,” Sagan said.
Sagan stepped off the black Bora-Hansgrohe bus in his white jersey with rainbow stripes. The crowd in Compiègne – where the 257-kilometer French monument starts Sunday morning – roared.
“The rock star of cycling,” the announcer said from the stage where Sagan was presented with his German team.
The Slovak’s status sees him start Paris-Roubaix as the favorite even if there are others who have been more successful in the cobbled classics so far.
Niki Terpstra won both the E3 Harelbeke and Tour of Flanders thanks to team Quick-Step Floors’ domination.
“In Flanders, you can be dropped in the climbs, and here you can be dropped in the flat,” Sagan said of what differences to expect between Flanders last Sunday and Paris-Roubaix.
“For sure, [the team races it differently]. It’s a different race from Flanders. Also in the end, it can be much harder than what you can expect,” Sagan continued. “I feel good. Quite good. And we’ll see tomorrow. It’s a long race and you also have to be calm. We’ll see tomorrow what’s going to happen.”
Critics say that Sagan will have a hard time to win because his team, like others, lack other riders capable of winning. Quick-Step is one of the few with several options with Terpstra, who won in Roubaix in 2014, Philippe Gilbert, Zdenek Stybar, and Yves Lampaert.
After Terpstra’s attack Sunday in the Tour of Flanders, Sagan found himself in a group that would not work in unison to catch the lone rider.
“I don’t know [how to win it]. I never won it,” Sagan said of Paris-Roubaix. “What can I say? If I have an idea, then I’m not going to tell you.”
“The idea would be to wait to the Carrefour de Arbre,” Sagan’s super-helper Marcus Burghardt explained. “Then go really hard on the Carrefour de Arbre and make the difference on this hard sector.”
Burghardt forms part of an elite guard that manager Ralph Denk and the Bora-Hansgrohe brass have been assembling around Sagan. The guard includes Daniel Oss and Maciej Bodnar, as well.
This winter, after its debut in the WorldTour with Sagan in 2017, the team made several tweaks. One was to bring in Daniel Oss, who worked with Greg Van Avermaet in past seasons. The other was to plan a gentler spring for Sagan so that he would reach peak fitness for this week of Flanders and Roubaix.
“We want to win this race, we are focused since December and November on this race,” Burghardt added. “The team did a lot of work on this and now we are going to go out there and win this race.”
What the team saw over the last month is that Quick-Step is strong, if not stronger last year’s squad before Boonen retired. Now, even if they say they race to their own plans, they must consider how to catch the Belgian super team sleeping.
“We know that they have many cards to play. They have their plan, they played it quite good [in Flanders], but we are going to do our race,” Burghardt added. “It’s not always so easy. On the other hand, every team must look for its win and not look against Peter, to ride against him because you also can’t win.
“How will he Peter do it? How I see it now, I think that Peter can wait until Carrefour de Arbre and make a big move there and he’s gonna win.”