Before the start of Gent-Wevelgem, Cannondale manager Roberto Amadrio noted wryly that, much like Mark Cavendish, it is almost as though Peter Sagan can now only lose races, such is the weight of expectation heaped upon him, and he pleaded for some restraint when it came to judging the 24-year-old's performances.
Afterwards, Sagan showed that his own sense of perspective, at least, remains very much intact when he declared himself pleased with his third place finish behind winner John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) and Arnaud Démare (FDJ.fr) after a keenly-contested bunch sprint.
Sagan admitted that he had opened his sprint a little too early in the finishing straight on Menenstraat, but after banking an intelligent victory at E3 Harelbeke on Friday, no rider can come away from the first of three successive weekends on the cobbles more pleased than the Slovak champion.
"I think today it was important not to fall and then I managed to do a good sprint with good sensations but I went early and Degenkolb was on my wheel, I think," Sagan said afterwards. "It was just us and Giant who were pulling together [to bring back Stijn Devolder's late move]. Third is a good result and I think I can be happy with that."
Seven days ago, Sagan faced some criticism after he could only manage 10th place in the group sprint at the end of Milan-San Remo, where Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) emerged victorious. No two races are ever the same, however, and this time around, it was Kristoff who faded to 11th, having mistimed his effort.
"Kristoff won San Remo but he started the sprint too early today and he stopped up," Sagan said. "I had the condition and today I could even have won but sprints are like that – sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."
The absence of Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel, coupled with André Greipel's late crash, opened the door for another tier of fast men at Gent-Wevelgem, and Sagan felt that there was not much to choose between Degenkolb, Démare and himself in such a finale.
"Of the sprinters who were up there, we were all on the same level. There wasn't one stronger than the other – there wasn't Cavendish or Kittel, and Greipel fell," Sagan said. "You just have to see because everybody was tired after 230 hard kilometres like that, even if there were 50 riders still there at the finish."
After winning E3 Harelbeke on Friday, Sagan had expressed a degree of irritation at the barrage of questions he faced regarding his chances at the Tour of Flanders, and he remained coy about his prospects after Gent-Wevelgem.
"We'll see," he said guardedly. Sagan's performances in the past three days also appeared to allay any qualms that his condition might not be quite that of twelve months ago. "I think it's good and I think my results show that," he said.
Asked if his self-belief had been buoyed by his weekend in Belgium, meanwhile, Sagan was typically succinct. "I'm always confident because if I don't have faith in myself, who should I believe in?"
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