Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) has admitted something is missing in his Classics campaign after failing to win the Tour of Flanders yesterday, and that he is not the same as when he won the race in 2016.
Sagan placed 11th, finishing in a select chase group after Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) won the race following a solo attack. Sagan began to fade on the Oude Kwaremont alongside Zdenek Štybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), but managed to stay in the 15-strong group of favourites and attacked in the flats after the final Paterberg climb. But the Sagan magic was missing.
When asked if this was the same Sagan that had won the Belgian Classic in 2016, the Slovakian replied: "I don't think so. For sure, I am not like I was three years ago."
The three-time world champion said: "My campaign here in Belgium...I am very confident I can get better. I have lost a lot since I got sick in Sierra Nevada but I think it is coming, we will see."
Sagan fell sick during an altitude training camp in Spain in early March, suffering from stomach problems the week before Tirreno-Adriatico and subsequently losing weight.
The good news is there are still three weeks of Classics racing ahead for him, with Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, the Amstel Gold Race a week later and Liège-Bastogne-Liège the following week on April 28.
Bora's sports director, Patxi Vila, said: "For us, we are chasing those results and that good feeling. I saw a good Peter, better at the end of the race than in the middle.
"I think it's coming, but he's still not at the top. Milan-San Remo, Flanders and Roubaix...those are the really big goals. It's not that we moved everything back [for Liège-Bastogne-Liège].
"He's not finding the good feelings that he had in the past and we have to analyse why that is happening. At the end, it was not a bad race, but it was not the victory, and we have to analyse that."
Sagan, like other favourites for the win such as Greg Van Avermaet, found themselves in a difficult situation once Bettiol escaped solo on the Oude Kwaremont with 17km left to race.
Despite the disappointing result, fans still crowded the Bora-Hansgrohe team bus at the finish in Oudenaarde and cheered loudly when Sagan stepped off the bus.
"It was a very hard race. I think Bettiol took all the chances and he surprised everybody with how strong he is," Sagan said.
"Van der Poel and Van Avermaet were also very strong today but in the end nobody made a big difference. There wasn't a lot of cooperation because everybody stayed in the front – the leaders from the teams, everybody just wants to attack and go away.
"It was a little bit because of the headwind and everybody just stayed in the wheels. There were a lot of riders and when somebody attacked there was always someone to close the gaps."
Sagan will now look to Sunday's Paris-Roubaix to record his first Classics win of the season. He won the race last year with a long solo attack, joining early escapee Silvan Dillier (Ag2r) and winning the eventual two-man sprint.
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