Tinkoff-Saxo team owner Oleg Tinkov suspended manager Bjarne Riis after a series of spring disappointments that culminated on the Via Roma last week, so nothing would arrest the tense mood inside the team bus more than a victory at the WorldTour level.
Sagan said this week that he is coming to Belgium with a “great desire” to perform well.
“I won the E3 Harelbeke last year and I will try to do the double this year,” he said. “The cobblestone classics kick off and I want to be ready. I focus on the classics ahead and I feel very well and in very good form.”
While admitting that Sagan, as defending champion, is the pre-race favourite, team director Lars Michaelsen said the race can throw plenty of obstacles into the team's plans.
“No doubt that Peter is in form, but we need to avoid crashes and then we have to cross our fingers and hope that the race develops in the right direction for us,” Michaelsen said. “We have a plan A and B but as we saw in Dwars door Vlaanderen, crashes and tactical deadlocks can throw a spanner in the works.”
Matti Breschel, Maciej Bodnar, Michael Mørkøv, Matteo Tosatto, Nikolay Trusov, Michael Kolar and Pavel Brutt will provide the support for Sagan on Friday.
The peloton will traverse 17 bergs throughout the 218km race, many of them on cobbles. The first small cluster of climbs include the Katteberg and Leberg. La Houppe is the next test after 100km of racing.
Michaelsen said the real racing will begin after the first 100 relatively flat kilometres.
“The race tactics will come down to the constellation after 100km of fairly flat racing, where a break will most likely form,” he said. “I expect Etixx-Quickstep to be very strong, so we have a group of riders who’ll support Sagan and stay with him as long as possible. Guys like Bodnar, Breschel and Tosatto should play a key role here."
After La Houppe the race is peppered with hellingen - the Eikenberg (118km), Taaienberg (128km), and Knokteberg (143km) standing out in a section of 39km that includes no fewer than seven climbs. However, it’s not until the Paterberg (173km) and Oude Kwaremont (177km), that the main contenders typically tend to shine.
“A lot can happen in the last part of the race, and this is where the game of tactics and constellations of the groups will impact the race heavily,” Michaelsen said.
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