Peter Sagan arrives in Belgium on Thursday ahead of his cobbled classics campaign eager to put his off-key showing at last weekend’s Milan-San Remo behind him. The Cannondale rider entered La Classicissima as the outright favourite for victory but fell short in a breathless finale and could only manage a disappointed 10th in the sprint.
The day after the race, Sagan shipped his share of criticism in the Italian press, with – somewhat bizarrely – Francesco Moser and Moreno Argentin among those wheeled out to dismiss the hackneyed idea that the Slovak was the new Eddy Merckx.
And so perhaps not unlike a Serie A team calling a silenzio stampa in response to a heavy defeat, Sagan is not scheduled to hold a press conference on his arrival in Flanders, instead preferring to do his talking out on the road at E3 Harelbeke on Friday.
“There are still the other classics to come, from here to Paris-Roubaix, and we’ll try to win at least one of them,” Cannondale directeur sportif Stefano Zanatta told Cyclingnews in Waregem. “Sunday wasn’t an easy race and he needed a few days to recover but he’ll be up here on Thursday and then he’ll do the races in Belgium from Friday onwards.”
In the days since Milan-San Remo, the Cannondale squad have mulled over Sagan’s failure to make an impact on the Lungomare Italo Calvino, but the consensus within the team is that his second place finish twelve months ago, after making an error in the finishing sprint, was more an altogether more harrowing experience. Accepting the criticism of Sagan as “normal,” Zanatta said that his rider had simply suffered from the cold conditions in the finale on Sunday.
“We’ve analysed the race and there wasn’t a big difference between him and the other favourites: nobody really tried to attack on the Poggio because nobody had the legs,” he said. “The winner was the rider who managed to recover best for the sprint and who was maybe most used to the cold. But for our part, we’re happy with how we approached the race, we raced to win.
“Sure, finishing 10th is maybe a bit of a disappointment, because everybody looks at Sagan and thinks that he always has to win. But sometimes people forget the date of birth on his passport a little too easily. He’s still only 24, he’s still learning and every now and then he’s entitled to make a little error.”
Although Sagan has won twice already in 2014, taking stages at the Tour of Oman and Tirreno-Adriatico, there are murmurs from some quarters that he is lacking the sparkle of twelve months ago, but Zanatta insisted that his San Remo disappointment was a consequence of the weather rather than his condition.
“Peter wasn’t lacking anything athletically on Sunday. He’s not lacking in condition or preparation,” he said. “So we can look forward to the coming races with confidence based on what he did at Tirreno and what he’s done in the past in these races in the north.”
The soundtrack to Sagan’s spring, of course, is the steady chirruping of questions regarding his future. Out of contract at the end of the season, Sagan has been linked with a number of destinations in 2015, including Tinkoff-Saxo, Astana and Fernando Alonso’s planned new team, and the salary agent Giovanni Lombardi is reportedly seeking for his client seems to grow with each passing week.
Officially at least, negotiations between Sagan and his suitors – including Cannondale – are not due to begin until after Paris-Roubaix, and Zanatta downplayed the idea that the conjecture over his future has been a distraction this season.
“Every week there’s been another article saying he’s going here or there next year, but that hasn’t distracted Peter, and now we’re into the classics and it’s important to concentrate on the races,” Zanatta said. “Afterwards, he and the team will weigh things up and make a decision. Peter has the desire to continue with us, so his manager will sit down with the team and assess the prospects. But it’s not something that’s put him out very much. When there’s a race, he thinks about the race.”