Sagan learns from past mistakes to win Gent-Wevelgem in rainbow jersey

Peter Sagan’s run of second places has been a running joke on social media, even for the man himself. But after adding another runner’s up spot to his palmarès on Friday at E3 Harelbeke, he was able to raise his arms in victory for the first time in the world champion’s jersey at Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem.

The victory came at a challenging time for the Slovakian, whose father-in-law fell ill over the weekend. “I want to dedicate this victory to the father of my love because yesterday he had a hard time and I am very happy to dedicate this victory to him,” he said in his post-press conference. “I’m happy that I won in this jersey, it’s also an important race for me. It’s the second time I’ve won it.

“It was very hard and I want to thank my teammates. In the first bit, they missed a little bit but then they came back and then we could play with the group like in other teams.”

When reporters tried to ask if it meant more because of the second places (73 in total), Sagan hit back saying that victory was not his driving force in cycling.

“In life, there are more important things than victories, second places, or whatever. I’m riding for passion, not ambition,” he said simply. “I’m very happy and I think if you are always there, some day you also have to feel good. That is important to feel good and not think a lot about bad things.”

Sagan initiated the key break near the top of the second ascent of the Kemmelberg – the tougher of the two times they tackled it. He took to the front just as they approached the top, making a small gap between himself and the select group of favourites. Only two could follow the world champion, Fabian Cancellara and Sep Vanmarcke. A group of chasers tried to pull them back, but it was too late it would be down to these three and the lone leader Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha) for the victory.

“In the end, we attacked with Fabian in the last cobblestone climb, and then we went in the breakaway and I think that the fans saw the breakaway. We worked together from the start, but afterwards, it was a little bit hard,” explained Sagan.

Sagan last won this race in 2013, with a crafty attack at four kilometres to go, pulling a celebratory wheelie as he crossed the line. It was a much cagier affair this time, as the four leaders rolled into Wevelgem. Learning from previous races and with more than enough time between themselves and the chasers, Sagan and his companions began looking at each other and playing a game of who will crack first. Eventually, it was Kuznetsov who did so, unwittingly setting Sagan up perfectly.

“The final was very hard because we went in the breakaway and we were pulling more with Fabian, me and the guy from Katusha. Also, Vanmarcke was pulling but I don’t know how to say it but he stopped pulling before us,” he said. “Cycling is like this, the big names have to do more work and then I said I’m not going to do the same mistake as before and pull all the way to the finish or something. We had a big gap to the other group and I just started from third position. The guy from Katusha pulled early. I knew I had to go behind him, and he [set me up for] a very good sprint.”

Sagan will now fly home to see his wife and family before returning to Belgium late next week to begin his final preparations for the Tour of Flanders. Sagan has once finished on the podium of De Ronde in 2013, the same year that he last won Gent-Wevelgem – incidentally he also finished second in E3 Harelbeke that year as well. He’ll be hoping that it won’t be a runner’s up spot next week and while he takes confidence from this latest victory he says it won’t mean a thing when they line-up again in Bruges on April 3.

“I’m very happy, it’s an important race and I’m in a good way to come good for more important races. It’s good,” Sagan said. [It means] nothing because every race is different. Today was my day but Sunday it might be for somebody different. We will see. For sure what is very important is that I have a good condition. Friday was a bit of a different race, today was much better for me. We will see on Sunday how it will be but for sure I’m very happy and I’m on the right way to come good for Flanders and Roubaix.”

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