Tirreno-Adriatico has only just ended and Milan-San Remo is still four days away, but Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) have already begun to square off like prize fighters, using their battle in last year's race to raise the stakes for Saturday.
Last year Kwiatkowski beat Sagan and Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) in a shoulder-to-shoulder sprint after they got away on the Poggio following Sagan's powerful attack. Kwiatkowski played mind games and bluffed with Sagan in the final kilometres to save his strength for the sprint. Sagan generously led out the sprint in Via Roma thinking he was the strongest, only for Kwiatkowski to beat him at the line.
Sagan often says that 'the show' is more important that winning but revealed that he has never wanted to watch the video of last year's race. He is clearly still smarting from that defeat, despite admitting he was overly generous in the final kilometres.
"Yeah, but that's also the thing, it's about the way you win. If you analyse how Kwiato won last year, then... If I win like that, I wouldn't be happy with my performance," Sagan said, beginning psychological battle for Milan-San Remo before he rode the time trial of Tirreno-Adriatico in San Benedetto del Tronto on Tuesday.
Asked if he was disappointed with how Kwiatkowski raced, Sagan said: "Everyone is different, we have difference personalities, that's life. That's why life is beautiful, everybody is different. I prefer to make some show for people and how it's going, it's going, it doesn't matter if you win or lose."
Kwiatkowski prefers to be the smartest than the strongest
Kwiatkowski was in no mood to let Sagan's comments ruin his party after sealing overall victory at Tirreno-Adriatico. He named Sagan as the favourite for this year's Milan-San Remo, but when he was told about Sagan's comments during the post-race press conference, he did not hesitate to hit back.
"How can I respond?" Kwiatkowski said, carefully weighing his response to Sagan's accusations but not afraid to respond.
"In 2016, when they chased me back on the Poggio, nobody complained about the other guys chased me with the whole team. Year to year it's a different style. At the end of the day it matters if you do the right thing.
"I know what it's like to race in the rainbow jersey, and Peter knows, too. It's part of the game. He's saying such a thing. I understand him. We'll see how it goes. A lot of guys put him under pressure and lot of guys put me under pressure. I've been in the same situation so many times. It's part of the game, no?"
Kwiatkowski acknowledged that Sagan was playing mind games, and he played some of his own with his final, putdown comment on the matter.
"Sometimes you don't win the races by being strongest, but you need to be the smartest," Kwiatkowski, said, symbolically dropping the microphone and silencing the press conference with his parting shot.
The next time Sagan and Kwiatkowski meet in person will be during Saturday's race. The final say will come on the Poggio and the Via Roma.
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