Slovak builds toward Tour of Flanders
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) turned up for a training ride and came away with a victory on stage 1 of the Three Days of De Panne. The Slovak had told Cyclingnews on the eve of the race that his sole intention was to keep his legs turning over ahead of the Tour of Flanders, but when the chance of a win presented itself in Oudenaarde on Tuesday, Sagan couldn't help but accept.
"We talked in the team before the race and it was decided that I would only do training for Sunday today," Sagan said as the press huddled around him in Oudenaarde's Stadhuis afterwards. "But during the race I started to feel good and I started to do a lot the work for my companions."
After teammate Daniel Oss' mid-stage break had been swallowed up by the group of principal favourites, Sagan was an increasingly visible presence towards the front end of the peloton. In the finale, he tracked an attack sparked by Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM) on the climb of the Kortekeer, which briefly threatened to stay clear to the line. Once that move was reeled in, he made arrangements for the sprint with his companion Fabio Sabatini as the 50-strong lead group thundered towards the finish.
"Saba told me to try and stay on his wheel, and if I could come past at the end then I should go for it, because he didn't know if he was good or not," Sagan said.
In the event, it was Astana's Valetin Iglinskiy who led out the sprint for Jacopo Guarinieri, but with Sabatini and Sagan both lined up on his wheel, there was only ever going to be one winner. "In the end, it was as well that I did the sprint as well and that it worked out that way," Sagan said.
Sagan's first-ever win in Belgium puts him into the white jersey of overall leader, something which may yet scupper any ideas of discreetly pulling out of the race on Thursday morning in order to save his energy for the Tour of Flanders. With stage two from Zottegem to Koksijde also fancied to finish in a bunch sprint, Sagan seems well-placed to defend his overall lead.
"I'm doing this for training, tomorrow also," said Sagan, who was coy about discussing his plans for Thursday. "We will see how things go tomorrow."
Indeed, the shadow of De Ronde looms large over the Three Days of De Panne, with seemingly every pedal stroke and every gesture carefully scrutinised by the Flemish media as a possible portent for Sunday. "If I come out of this race well and recover well, then I can do well in Flanders," Sagan said simply.
But what of Tom Boonen's assessment after Gent-Wevelgem, that the 22-year-old Sagan needs an experienced head alongside him in his team to guide him through the Classics?
"That's the reason why I am here, for experience," said Sagan. "I like these races because they're something different. We have three weeks here in Belgium that are different from all the other races during the year. Certainly these races can also be for me."
Sagan is quietly hoping to be in the mix when he returns to Oudenaarde for the finale of the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, even if he acknowledged that Boonen would be the favourite following his wins at E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem.
"I don't know how I can beat him," Sagan said. "I'll need to see in the race because Boonen will have a strong team."
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