Victory at the end of a taxing afternoon of racing on stage 2 of the Three Days of De Panne augurs well for Sacha Modolo’s hopes of one day transforming from a sprinter into a cobbled classics contender, but the Lampre-Merida man warned that such a metamorphosis is by no means a given.
Fourth place in his debut Milan-San Remo as a raw neo-professional in 2010 was testament to Modolo’s powers of endurance, but after spending the first four seasons of his career on a primarily Italian programme with Bardiani, he acknowledged that he is short on experience when it comes to the pavé.
"In Italy they say that I should be suited to these races but it’s not as straightforward as it seems," Modolo said after landing victory in a group sprint in De Panne ahead of Arnaud Démare (FDJ.fr). "It would be my dream to be good in these races but cycling isn’t mathematical. You need a lot of experience and this is the first year I’ve done these races. We’ll see in the future what I manage to do."
Prior to this season, Modolo’s time on the cobbles was limited to a brace of outings in De Panne in 2010 and 2012, but his elevation to WorldTour level this season with Lampre meant that he lined out at E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem last weekend. The learning curve, he admitted, has been a steep one.
"I don’t know the roads and the muri. I don’t know the key points where you’re supposed to be in front, so that makes it a bit hard," Modolo said. "I fell a few times at Ghent-Wevelgem, too, and I only got back on with 20 kilometres to go. The thing is, when you waste a bit more energy than the others here, then you’re already screwed. I’m lacking a bit of experience."
Even so, Modolo coped impressively with the cobbles and hills on the parcours of Wednesday’s stage. He comfortably made the front group of 32 riders when the field split at the midway point, and he coped well on the day’s primary difficulty, the Kemmelerberg. "I like racing here because it’s totally different to racing in Italy. Here, there are attacks with 60km from the finish whereas in Italy everybody waits for the finale," he said.
A late break featuring Oscar Gatto (Cannondale) and QuickStep duo Niki Terpstra and Gert Steegmans threatened to make off with the spoils, but the trio was pegged back on the finishing circuit, where Modolo emerged victorious from a group sprint that saw him fend off Démare and Milan-San Remo winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), as well as Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano).
"We did what we had to do in the finale," he said. "Davide Cimolai covered me and then Max Richeze rode as my last man. All I had to do was win. I didn’t think my legs would be this good as I was coming from two hard days of racing last weekend."
The victory is Modolo’s fifth since arriving at Lampre and he described it as the highest-quality win of his campaign to date. "I’ve always been a bit lacking when I came up against the big riders but finally it came together today and now I need to confirm that. That’s the hard part but we’ll see," he said.
On Sunday, Modolo makes his Tour of Flanders debut and while he will be glad of the opportunity to sample De Ronde for the first time, he is under no illusions as to his role in a Lampre team where Filippo Pozzato leads the line in the classics.
"I’ll basically be Pozzato’s dog," Modolo laughed. "He’ll tell me what to do and I’ll have to go and do it. I’ll try to be in front with him even though it’s hard. The condition is there. Today I was fourth over the Kemmelerberg, although Flanders is obviously a completely different race."