Peter Sagan (Cannondale) will tread a highwire act for the remainder of the Three Days of De Panne, having won the opening stage in Zottegem, just ahead of FDJ's Arnaud Demare. It was Sagan's seventh victory of the 2013 season as the build-up continues to the race that he calls his "destiny", the Tour of Flanders on Sunday.
Sagan also won the opening stage of De Panne last year, relinquishing the overall lead on stage 2, something that he was happy to do with the race providing training for The Ronde. It's a similar policy that he will adopt this time around although, arguably, his form is at another level again.
"I don't want to make too much of an effort and lose energy ahead of Flanders, especially with Thursday's half stage and then the time trial," he told media following his win. "It's not the perfect situation to be defending the race leadership.
"Today it was good to win but the most important thing was that it was good training for Flanders."
There was just a hint of controversy in today's victory, with Sagan ahead of Demare on the run into the finish. With the course taking a slight left-hand turn just before the line, the Slovakian champion from certain angles appeared to move slightly across Demare's line but having viewed the replay from above and directly in front, UCI officials saw no reason to sanction Sagan, deeming that the FDJ rider had enough space to overtake.
"I wasn't worried about being disqualified," said Sagan.
The 23-year-old claims that his only real effort today came in the sprint to the finish, somewhat of a friendly warning shot to his rivals for Flanders. That was despite his charging off the front of the bunch several times in the final 30km. Sagan's drag race up the Valkenberg with 20km remaining set up his victory, but as he brought about the final selection, he maintained his poker face.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) described Sagan as a 'once in a generation' rider, a compliment that the dominant man of the moment was thankful for, maintaining that he just wants to win.
"When I became a professional my aim was to be the best on the climbs and in the sprint, try to be the protagonist everywhere," he explained in response. "Now the goal is to take as many wins as possible and the most important races."
Cavendish's teammate, Tom Boonen, showed no signs of the knee injury which brought an early end to his Gent-Wevelgem, impressing Sagan.
"Boonen is really strong and he showed his abilities supporting the team - Cavendish and the others," he explained. "I noticed him at the front of the bunch many times and during the hard parts of the route. He showed that he's got good condition and we have to consider him as one of the favourites for Sunday."
Sagan will no doubt milk as much out of the next two days as he can, what that means for Wednesday's sprint into Koksijde is anyone's guess but regardless of his effort, he'll be hoping for enough with his overall plan to require "only luck" for Sunday.
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