Peter Sagan (Cannondale) snapped up another one-day race this spring, taking Brabantse Pijl today in Belgium ahead of World Champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing). The Slovak, out-numbered, chased down an attack and out-sprinted Gilbert.
"To win in front of Gilbert? It's good. He's won big races," Sagan said in a press conference. "I still need to learn to be a big rider."
Whatever Sagan lacked in experience and tactical skills, he made up with power. Out-numbered, he still was able to beat the World Champion and former Brabantse Pijl winner.
Gilbert won in 2011 before going on to win all three Ardennes Classics. As it is now, he appears to be at a disadvantage to Sagan for the upcoming classics, except for Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where his rival will not race.
Brabantse Pijl is Sagan's second one-day win this spring. He took Ghent-Wevelgem victory, but then he had the numerical advantage with Maciej Bodnar in the escape.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Brabantse Pijl went down like a good western. Sagan came into town out-numbered, eyed his rivals and began shooting. Despite the disadvantage - this case two BMC Racing and two Omega Pharma riders in an 11-man move - he was the last man standing.
He explained, "I was too tired to pull off a special victory salute."
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) attacked for team-mate Gilbert 18km out. Sagan marked them with Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
Their five-man group bridged to a front group of six, including Chavanel's team-mate Nikolas Maes.
"Philippe had an advantage because he had a teammate, and there were two [Omega Pharma] riders," Sagan added. "I was alone."
Chavanel attacked four kilometres out. Sagan marked him. Maes countered with Van Avermaet and rode clear.
"I was thinking, it's not even my objective to win," Sagan continued. "When the two riders attacked, I said, 'OK, now it's time to go.' The others weren't working with me, so I went to the front to see what the others had on the last climb."
Sagan went fast enough that only Gilbert could follow. Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) trailed behind. Sagan caught Maes, caught Van Averment and dealt with Gilbert in a tight sprint.
Making it seem even more impressive, he explained it was just a test for the two Ardennes Classics, Amstel Gold Race on Sunday and Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday. He said, "I came here today just to try my legs."
Racing for the Amstel beer
Sagan explained that he remembers the Amstel Gold Race from the beer he drank when he finished third last year. He added that he wants to taste it again, but this time while standing on the podium's top step.
"Philippe is a big rider, he knows what he needs to do to come into condition for Amstel, Flèche Wallonne and Liège. I expect he'll be stronger there," Sagan added. "Me? I don't how strong I'll be, but I'll be good."
Brabantse Pijl 2013
1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale in 4-45-05
2. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing at same time
3. Bjorn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM at 4 secs
4. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 9 secs
5. Simon Geschke (Ger) Argos-Shimano at same time
6. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing at 11 secs
7. Davide Malacarne (Ita) Europcar at 17 secs
8. Stijn Devolder (Bel) RadioShack-Leopard at 19 secs
9. Paul Voss (Ger) NetApp-Endura at 22 secs
10. Kenny Dehaes (Bel) Lotto-Belisol at 25 secs
26. Scott Thwaites (GBr) NetApp-Endura at 57 secs
108. Jonny McEvoy (GBr) NetApp-Endura at 8-13
Sylvain Chavanel heads the lead group
Greg Avermaet attacks
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