Despite falling out of the race lead and into fourth place after Friday's team time trial at the Eneco Tour, Peter Sagan made it clear after warming down on his trainer that he hasn't given up the fight.
Sagan's Tinkoff team finished eighth in the 20.9km race against the clock, 34 seconds behind the BMC Racing team of new overall leader Rohan Dennis. The world champion is now 27 seconds off Dennis' time, with BMC's Taylor Phinney in second at six seconds back and Etixx-QuickStep's Tony Martin 24 seconds in arrears.
"We knew it would be a difficult team time trial as we were racing against some of the world's best teams," Sagan said. "We gave our best and I don't see what we could have done better. I am now fourth in the GC, 27 seconds behind Dennis, but with all the bonus seconds up for grabs in the last two stages, we still have options. It will be tough and we will have to race smart on Saturday and Sunday."
Friday's route was a technical, mostly flat affair with with two small climbs, the first of which came just 6km into the stage. Tinkoff director Tristin Hoffman said the team's strategy was to try and get over the climb with all eight riders intact to help power through the lest of the course.
"We wanted to have everyone together over that climb, so maybe we lost a little time there but then we had the whole team to pull over the top," Hoffman said. "In the last kilometres we lost guys one by one but that was OK."
The team maintained its riders until about halfway through the stage, but then one by one the riders put in one big final pull before dropping off, leaving Sagan, Erik Baška, Maciej Bodnar and Pavel Brutt to cross the line.
"In the end it was eighth," Hoffman said. "We hoped for a top five, but the boys did everything right so we can’t complain. Maybe we missed a bit of speed in the start, but we had a plan and they stuck to it and gave their all. The GC will be difficult now with 27 seconds in it, but everything is possible, especially with Peter.”
Saturday's sixth stage is a rolling 185.2km route that crosses six main climbs, the last of which – the Muizenberg – comes with just 18km to race. At 650 metres and grades of 6.6 percent, it could provide the perfect launch pads for attacks by Sagan and others. Sunday's final stage takes riders over 197.8km from Bornem to Geraardsbergen.