Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) will undoubtedly line up for Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem as one of the favourites but he doesn’t seem to have as much confidence in his chances. The world champion placed second to Michal Kwiatkowski at E3 Harelbeke Friday but says that Gent-Wevelgem might be an even bigger challenge.
"Gent-Wevelgem might prove more difficult for me than E3 Harelbeke, as the finish is more suitable for solo attacks and it's not easy to watch everyone,” Sagan said in a team press release. Sagan won the race in 2013 while racing with Cannondale and celebrated by pulling a wheelie.
This year, organisers have routed the 243km race race up the tougher side of the Kemmelberg and added in several other climbs, with 10 climbs within 65km.
After climbing the Kemmelberg for the first time at the 170km mark, the riders will loop around and pass over the Monteberg and the Baneberg before heading back into Kemmel. On the second time up the Kemmelberg, riders will race up the other, older side, which has a section at 23 per cent.
“Any team with more riders at the front after crossing the hills could have a big advantage, but it may not be decisive - anyone can surprise in these classics,” Sagan suggested.
Sagan also commented on the weather, which is expected to be dry, after heavy overnight rain, with winds coming from the southwest. However, last year experienced wind gusts as fast as 90km/h, causing a lot of problems, and only 39 riders finished.
“The weather could cause confusion again," Sagan said, sounding downbeat.
Tinkoff director Tristan Hoffman also weighed in on the climbs and weather.
“Gent-Wevelgem is quite a different race to E3 – the past editions have shown that it’s much more for sprinters. The wind can have an influence here as we head to the coast, and we saw this to the very extreme last year! The forecast can still change before the weekend but those conditions are quite rare.”
Sagan will have the support of a strong team that also includes Maciej Bodnar, Pavel Brutt, Adam Blythe, Oscar Gatto, Michael Gogl, Michael Kolar, and Erik Baška.
“Sagan will again be our leader here, but there’s the opportunity for others to be there,” Hoffman said. “It’s a good race for guys like Erik Baška and Michael Kolar to gain experience, but without any pressure. If small groups go away everyone is always watching Peter in these circumstances so we’re open to getting others in the moves and seeing how things pan out.”
After acknowledging the demands of the course and the possibly strong winds, as compared to E3 Harelbeke, Sagan did not completely discount himself as a contender for the win, saying that anything can happen given the unpredictability of the Spring Classics.
“In my opinion anything will be possible up until the last moment, but I hope to be in the right place at the right time, and to be able to pull a wheelie at the finish line like three years ago,” Sagan said.
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