The world champion and 2016 winner of De Ronde was leading the chase of solo race leader Philippe Gilbert up the race’s penultimate climb with 16 kilometres to go when he crashed, taking Ag2r’s Oliver Naesen and Greg Van Avermaet with him. While Van Avermaet was able to get back on his bike quickly, Sagan hit the ground hard and eventually crossed the line in 27th place.
The Slovak was riding on the smooth path on the left side of the climb off the cobbles close to the metal railings, with the duo close on his wheel behind. He admitted much of the responsibility for the crash after the race, and said he believed he got caught on a spectator’s coat or flag before hitting the barrier and tumbling to the ground.
However, Cancellara, who retired at the end of the 2016 season, said he believed Sagan made a mistake by choosing to ride too close to the barriers.
“We saw what happened, I don’t say the word but it’s like just a mistake,” Cancellara told Cycling Weekly at the Trek-Segafredo bus after the race, where he is now working as a brand ambassador for Trek bikes since retiring. “You don’t ride so close just to be smoother, it was bad, it was wrong.”
Cancellara beat Sagan into second at the 2013 edition of Flanders, yet the result was reversed last year on the Swiss’s final appearance in the race. Despite no longer racing, the 36-year old returned to the Belgian cobbles he knows so well by riding the Flanders Sportive last Saturday – even stopping to help a rider fix a mechanical.
And while mistakes like we saw on Sunday from Sagan are rare, Cancellara suggested the pressure and expectation on him every race could be starting to take its toll. Sagan only has his victory at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne this Classics campaign so far, despite coming close multiple times, which is likely to mean he’ll be eager to make amends in Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.
“He has pressure, he has expectation from all over. Everyone is watching him because he’s the rider who has caused damage a lot in the races to win with the way he’s won. Today he made a mistake; he paid,” Cancellara continued.
“It’s not only the pressure, it’s just generally because if he continues to win like he wins always then maybe it’s uninteresting. It’s sad that these things happen the way he crashed out, but again it’s his mistake – too close to the barrier and every rider knows that you don’t go too close.
“You see last week [at E3 Harelbeke and Ghent-Wevelgem], this week, the luck is not on his side. For sure he’s not happy about that so he wants to fight back. I think he wants to fight back next weekend [at Roubaix].”