Peter Sagan's performances over the opening weekend of the Classics were a warning shot to those who thought they might be able to topple the World Champion off his perch this spring. Sagan was the only rider to feature in the race winning move at both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
Greg Van Avermaet got the better of him on Saturday in Ghent but Sagan had no equal in the group that he came to the line with Sunday in Kuurne. His rivals have all said over the weekend that he is the man to beat and what will worry them is that he believes that there is more to come as he builds up to the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in April.
"Improve my performance? I hope so," the Bora-Hansgrohe rider said with a wry smile in his post-race press conference. "We will see. It always depends not on the condition but on the results. If I feel better and I can win, then that is good. I hope with the next period of hard races that I can still improve. I hope I can grow my condition."
The Sagan that turned up in the primary school that plays host to the Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne press room was a different character to the one that playfully lowered his seat in the Sporza studio and pointedly asked Sep Vanmarcke why he hadn't attacked Saturday. It certainly wasn't serious, it rarely is with Sagan, but he was much happier Sunday to give a run down on the race from his perspective.
He admitted that he had burned too many of his matches too early at Omloop, something that he says he also did at Kuurne last season. A year down the line, and with plenty more experience, Sagan had the confidence to play the game to his advantage. Knowing that he had the match of most of the riders in the front, he knew that it was about following the moves rather than making them.
"Yesterday I wasted a lot of energy to get into the front and to be second," he explained. "Today, I had experience from last year and last year I was attacking too early and then in the final the whole group came back. Last year, one guy won and then the group made the sprint and that's what I didn't want to do this year.
"I didn't work in the front because there were a lot of riders working in the front from the big teams. I said, it's better if the bunch comes and make the sprint, it doesn't matter for me. I was a little bit quiet because I did a lot of work yesterday and I was just staying on the wheels and in the 25 kilometres they started to attack. I said, ok, we can go. I was lucky to be in the front with the group of five riders."
Sagan says that he's not sure if he has physically stepped up his game in comparison to this time last year but mentally things may have changed. "I can't tell if I'm better or not," said Sagan. "This year, I did a different kind of races. Yesterday was the same and today, I was racing like crazy and then I just switched off before the finish. This year, I thought I need to finish this race off. I stayed more calm and relaxed and then you see that everything comes along."
The Classics will be put on hold for many of the big guns as they travel elsewhere for races such as Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. For Sagan, the opening weekend was supposed to be a way to break him into his next block of racing and it could hardly have gone better.
"I wanted to race here after one month of training camp and I wanted to race here to be ready for Strade Bianche and Tirreno and the Classics. I chose this schedule and I think I am very happy for these races.
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