Sagan took his first win for Tinkoff-Saxo during the penultimate stage of Tirreno-Adriatico in March, but he has failed to crack a podium since in the traditional build-up to the Classics. He was fourth in the bunch kick at Milan-San Remo, and then he mysteriously dropped from the lead trio of E3Harelbeke in the final kilometres, eventually fading to 30th. Most recently he was 10th at Gent-Wevelgem.
“We really believe in Sagan,” said team director Tristan Hoffman. “I know he has the shape, we’ve seen that, and it has increased steadily over the last weeks. However, he has also lacked a bit of good fortune in some random situations during the last races. I’ve talked to the boys and they’re all ready to support him fully.”
While conceding that race favourties such as Sagan are just as susceptible to crashes and mechanicals as are any other riders over the 264km race, Hoffman said the “king of the Classics” was normally the kind of race where the top names go toe-to-toe in the finale.
“However, a strong team is crucial in order to arrive at the last 50km fresh before the race explodes on the two times up the Oude-Kwaremont and Paterberg combination and the Koppenberg in between,” he said.
Lining up alongside Sagan for Tinkoff-Saxo will be Matti Breschel, Maciej Bodnar, Matteo Tosatto, Pavel Brutt, Nikolay Trusov and Christopher Juul-Jensen, who returns from a hand injury sustained at Milano-San Remo.
“Guys like Michael, Pavel and Nikolay will have to pay attention in the first half of the race,” Hoffman said. “And then I expect that Matti, Chris and Maciej will be around Peter when we enter into deeper sections of the race.”
Juul-Jensen is expected to play a central part in the team’s effort to set up Sagan in the finale. He was scheduled to race Dwars door Vlaanderen, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem as a build up to Flanders, but his injury has kept him out until this weekend.
“Thursday I rode nearly six hours at full speed,” Juul-Jensen said. “My hand is sore but, after my training ride I did a test ride on the cobbles in inner Copenhagen and it was OK.
“Of course it’s not ideal to ride Vlaanderen with an injured hand,” he said. "But I just have to accept the pain, and I think the adrenaline rush you get from riding this race will also numb the pain. I think I’ll have my focus elsewhere when we find ourselves on the cobbles.”
Juul-Jensen added that he doesn't believe he's lost any power after being out for two weeks.
“Maybe I’ve just freshened up a bit in fact,” he said. “It would have been exciting if I had been able to ride the other cobbled races, but my forced break also gave me a respite after Tirreno-Adriatico, where I felt strong and therefore also used a lot of energy.
“Now, I’m just excited about joining the team and helping Sagan on Sunday. Ronde van Vlaanderen always feels like riding through a big party and the atmosphere in Bruge at the start is crazy.”
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