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How do you beat Peter Sagan at Paris-Roubaix?

As the directeur sportif gathered for their traditional pre-Paris-Roubaix meeting with the race organisation, there was one question on many of their minds: How do we beat Peter Sagan?

The Tinkoff rider and current world champion has never secured a result in Paris-Roubaix, with sixth place in 2014 his best result. However Sagan’s victory at the Tour of Flanders has frightened his rivals. He distanced them on the final climbs and then time trialled to the finish, even holding off a pursuit by former world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara. He could perhaps do the same on the final sectors of pave and so triumph alone in the Roubaix velodrome.

That kind of scenario has caused the directeur sportif some sleepless nights this week, as they try a team strategy to beat Sagan.

“It’s a tough question and difficult to answer,” experienced BMC directeur sportif Valerio Piva told Cyclingnews. “As we saw at the Tour of Flanders, it’s very hard to beat him. You’ve got to drop him but that’s not easy.”

“Sagan’s the number one favourite and that could weigh on his shoulders and so mean it might not go his way. You need experience, you’ve got to know the course and you’ve got to go head-to-head with the other big favourites.”

Piva picks Fabian Cancellara as the rider who has the form and experience to take on Sagan.

“Fabian could actually have a good chance of beating him and maybe Sep Vanmarcke too. I wouldn’t exclude an outsider too, who takes the win while the others watch each other. Johan Vansummeren won from a long-range attack. That could happen again,” Piva warned.

“Boonen could also win, even if he’s close to the end of his career. Experience is vital in Paris-Roubaix and he’s got bags of it. He’s not at his best but he’s going well. The Etixx-Quickstep team is strong but the question is what will they do when it comes to down to the strongest riders and things go mano a mano. That’s when you need the legs…”

When Etixx-QuickStep directeur sportif Wilfred Peters was asked about team tactics during the official press conference on Friday Boonen cut in with a blunt answer: “Sometimes you don’t need a plan, you just need big balls….”

Peters agreed but is hoping the strength of his riders and Boonen’s experience will be enough to give them a major victory after a lean spring.

“What I learned from Milan-San Remo till now is that we have two or three very strong guys. We have a very strong Sagan, he won two times, and we have very good Cancellara. We have a very strong team as a whole but we’re missing a little bit a guy at the very top level. Hopefully we’ll have him on Sunday,” Peters said.

“The most experienced is Tom. Niki Terpstra won also one time in Roubaix and we also have Stybar. That’s a good trio but we’ll need to use every rider at the right moment to beat Sagan.”

Team Sky has their own plans, Trek-Segafredo believe in Cancellara

Team Sky often do things their own way and are hoping that Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe can upset the predictions and surprise Sagan, Cancellara and Boonen.

“We’re not thinking about trying to stop anyone. We have our own tactics,” Servais Knaven told Cyclingnews with a hint of pride. “Roubaix is all about the legs. You have to always be in a good position and wait for the right moment. If someone is better, someone is better, so it’s hard to stop anyone. All the big favourites are smart bike riders so it will be really difficult to surprise them.”

“You cannot plan Roubaix, it’s not straight forward. You cant say ‘ok we’re going to do it like this and this and this, then you come on the first sector and something happens and the whole plan falls apart. Roubaix is a race where you really have to think for yourself and be on it all day and know exactly the situation and what is coming. At the end it’s all about the legs and making the right decision.”

Fabian Cancellara arrived at Saturday afternoon’s team presentation in a serious mood.

“Fabian is already focused on the race,” Trek-Segafredo team manager Luca Guercilena told Cyclingnews.

“How do you beat Sagan? That’s a tough one. When you’re on form like he is, you can do great things. But we’ll be trying and we believe in our chances.”

“If you try to take on Sagan, it means you’ve got to drop him because he’s so fast at the finish. He’s probably the fastest sprinter of all the contenders this year apart from Kristoff – who could win and shouldn’t be forgotten.”

“We’ve got to try to win, for one last time, we’ll try for Fabian and also to finish off the Classics season in the right way. We’re not ready to roll over and give Sagan another win without a big, big fight.”


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