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Jens Voigt's final pro bike – complete with 'shut up legs' mantra
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Peter Sagan (Cannondale) exhausted after his solo effort
Cannondale rider to prepare for Flanders in De Panne
The 23-year-old used the full repertoire in his armoury to join the race defining group and then made tactical use of teammate Maciej Bodnar (Cannondale) as the 14-man move established a lead of 1’30 over the peloton.
With last year’s winner Tom Boonen crashing out and Fabian Cancellara pulling out at the feed zone, Sagan’s chances of the win rose considerably but he still had considerable work to do as the peloton bore down on the break inside the final 5 kilometres.
Sagan patiently waited for the fragile camaraderie to evaporate and when Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) strung out the break Sagan was launched an unstoppable counter attack.
After finishing second at Milan-San Remo and E3 Harelbeke, Sagan landed perhaps the most important victory of his already impressive career.
"The classics are my first goal of the season," he said in his press conference, repeating a mantra he has been issuing since the start of the year.
"I wanted to win in Milan-San Remo but now I’ve found this victory and it gives me and my team real satisfaction. Now I’ve broken the ice for the next win."
The ice was already thin for last year’s winner Tom Boonen who already looked short of form coming into the race. A crash just after the feed zone saw the Belgian retire and now Sagan is undoubtedly Cancellara’s main challenger for next Sunday’s Tour of Flanders.
"This might not be a win as big as San Remo or Paris-Roubaix but it’s an important race and I’m really happy but hope to continue now," Sagan added.
Gent-Wevelgem wasn't a one-man show either. After missing several key breaks in E3 Cannondale lined up for today’s race hungrier and more determined. When they, along with RadioShack, missed a break that included Mark Cavendish, Boonen and several BMC riders, the lime and green jerseys were dispatched to the front of the peloton to pacify the danger.
"The team gave me great support, especially Bodnar in the final," Sagan said.
"I was a little bit disappointed when there s a big group of us and only four or five riders were really cooperating. The others weren't really pushing too hard."
Roll on the Ronde
After discussing Gent-Wevelgem Sagan’s press conference quickly turned in the direction of Flanders, a race he finished 5th in last year.
"Flanders is a great race but also unpredictable. There are many factors that can be at work so you can be involved in crash, you can have a puncture at the wrong time and you have to save your energy because you can't put in mistimed attack during the race. I know I can be competitive and I know that Cancellara will be perhaps the most competitive and Boonen as well who will be racing on his home roads. They also have their experience too if you look at their age."
"There are so many factors that can affect the tactics and sometimes you can see riders who ardent among the favourites win the race so it’s not that useful to start talking about what could happen right now. We have to wait until Sunday and see what will be."
Both Cancellara and Boonen will return home in order to hone their form ahead of next Sunday but Sagan will race the Three Days of De Panne, starting Tuesday. It may keep him in the spotlight while his main rivals won't make public appearances until their respective press conferences next Saturday but Sagan is capable of soaking up any pressure.
"I’ve always been optimistic with the Classics. I knew after my first win this year that I can't win every race I start. The second places in Harelbeke and San Remo were the beginning and something positive to take. I know now that many contenders will look at me now and I’ll have many eyes on me but I’ll be optimistic and I hope to carry on doing well. I hope that this win is just the beginning ahead of Flanders and Amstel."