It was a different kind of second place finish for Peter Sagan (Cannondale) at the Tour of Flanders. Two weeks ago at Milan-San Remo, he could scarcely hide his dismay after allowing a maiden monument victory to slip through his grasp and into the lap of Gerald Ciolek.
However in Oudenaarde on Sunday, Sagan even punched the air in celebration on crossing the line in second place, 1:27 down on winner Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard).
That Sagan had claimed his first classic victory at Gent-Wevelgem on the intervening weekend had doubtless helped to soften the blow, and he had the air of a man determined to view his glass as half-full rather than half-empty after the race.
When complimented on his performance, Sagan allowed himself a wry smile and quipped: “Well, Cancellara did a nicer race, no?”
Sagan and Cancellara had been the overwhelming pre-race favourites, and the pair duly went head-to-head on the final circuit over the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg. Sagan matched his rival pedal stroke for pedal stroke on the first climb as they leapt across to escapee Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol). But on the Paterberg, Cancellara edged away near the summit and then hammered clear over the top, never to be seen again.
“We went away in a break on the Oude Kwaremont, but then Cancellara went for it on the Paterberg and I wasn’t able to follow him,” Sagan conceded.
Rather than sit and wait for the twenty-strong chasing group that was taking shape behind, Sagan opted to continue in his effort with Roelandts, acknowledging that he was already effectively racing for second place.
“I said to myself that it was better to wait for Jurgen, because we could work together. There was still a decent group behind us but if the two of us worked together, we had a better chance of making it to the finish,” Sagan said. “We held off the group and we managed to get a nice second place, so that’s why I celebrated at the finish.”
Sagan had committed the sin of presumption at Milan-San Remo, but at the Tour of Flanders, he made few of the positional errors that have compromised him on the cobbles in the past. His one fault – a crash near the Berendries – went largely unpunished.
“I fell with 100 kilometres to go because I had taken my hands off the bars to eat on the cobbles. But I got back on quite easily and then I did the best I could to stay in front,” Sagan said. “I rode well but I wasn’t able to hold Cancellara on the last climb.”
Satisfied with his cobbled-Classics campaign
Sagan’s early season was built around the two weeks between Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders, and he declared himself pleased with the balance sheet as he closes his own account for the cobbled Classics.
“My objective from the start of the season was to do well in these Classics and I’ve done well. I lost one race through my own mistake and in another two, I came up against Fabian who was going very, very well,” he said. “There was nothing I could do.”
Some nine years younger than Cancellara, Sagan can console himself in the knowledge that time is on his side as he looks to add a monument victory to his palmares. In light of the images circulating of his sorry bout of Sagan’s bad behaviour on the podium, it is to be hoped that Sagan might mature at a somewhat quicker pace off the bike.
His next tilt at a monument might not come until 2014, as he confirmed that he will not line up at Paris-Roubaix. He participated in the Hell of the North in each of his first two professional seasons, but wins and WorldTour points are the priority for his Cannondale team in the coming weeks, rather than gaining experience.
“I had a bet: if I won today, they would have let me do Roubaix but instead I have to rest up for Amstel Gold Race,” Sagan explained.