Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) rarely gives anything away in a press conference. Any thoughts or concerns about the race that lies before him are often guarded by a few choice quips and a grin. The double world champion was at his elusive best on Saturday afternoon in Roeselare as he sat down with the press ahead of Sunday's Tour of Flanders.
Asked how he thought the race would play out, Sagan used it as an opportunity to show off his burgeoning list of German words. "That will be big a Kinder überraschung," he replied with a laugh, referring to the chocolate eggs with toys in the centre. "I just learned that," he added.
Sagan declined to be drawn any further on the topic, and when questions moved over to Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), the man seen by most as his strongest challenger for the Tour of Flanders title, the world champion was equally as clipped in his answer.
"He's very strong. He's a pretty good rider," was the succinct response. Sagan added that it would not just be about himself and Van Avermaet, as it was earlier in the Classics. "There's a lot of good riders, it's not just me and him in the peloton. We will have to look out for a lot of people and who are the favourites and how the race goes. It's not just about two riders. Then, for sure, we will need a lot of luck going into Sunday."
While it is not the first time that it has happened, it is unusual for a pre-Tour of Flanders press conference to take place the Saturday before the race. Friday is generally the preferred day for riders to meet with the press ahead of the Ronde, although some take place earlier in the week. Sagan, however, has only just returned to Belgium after spending a week at home in Monaco
"I slept, ate, drank and rode on my bike and that's it. What more can I do?" He said of his time at home. "I did it like that last year and two years ago. I think that it is good to get out of the race atmosphere and to relax at home and prepare in your home atmosphere and in the parcours that I have in Monaco. I think it is good. After Flanders, I will stay here until Roubaix."
While Sagan has been away, a storm has brewed on Flemish television after Sporza broadcast footage that showed him apparently body-checking Maxime Vantomme. Afterwards, Vantomme said that it was 'the life of a small cyclist.' Sagan apologised about it on social media but further explained the situation, saying that his brake lever got caught, causing him to overbalance.
"For sure I didn't do the body check, or whatever you call it, on purpose," he said. "I think in that moment I wanted to go in the front, and my lever from the bike got stuck under the saddle of another rider and then after I lost my balance and went onto the left side, but it was not on purpose. What can I say? I'm sorry if I did something wrong, but there are worse things in the group happening."
Sagan was more effusive on the topic of his Bora-Hansgrohe teammates. There have been concerns that his team might not be strong enough to match the might of BMC or Quick-Step Floors. In particular, Quick-Step has been able to use its numerical advantage when the bunch splits up. Without a real plan B, it is Sagan or nothing for the team, it appears. Sagan praised his teammates, who he says did a lot to keep him in contention last weekend.
"I feel very good, like I said before. We have a very good atmosphere inside the team. There is no pressure inside the team, and we want to do our best, and that is what is more important, and then the main things just come," he said.
"Lukas [Pöstlberger] in Harelbeke saved the situation made a very good result [5th place] and the guys are working very hard. In Gent-Wevelgem, the last 50 or 40km it was crazy, and I was out on the road, and then Bodi [Maciej Bodnar] and my brother [Juraj Sagan] got me back in the main group, which was good from him and he saved me a lot of energy. I think we have a good spirit within the team and everybody will have to do it in the best way."