“You can’t win every day” said BORA – hansgrohe’s Peter Sagan after taking a close second in yesterday’s Omloop-Het-Nieuwsblad race, but today the UCI World Champion made it three wins in one day – his first win of the season, his first in a BORA – hansgrohe jersey, and the first win for BORA – hansgrohe as a UCI WorldTeam. The Slovak rider rode a perfect race, timing his sprint to the last 250m and taking the win with ease.
With a reputation as a sprinters’ classic, you’d be forgiven for imagining a flat parkour awaited riders on the 200.7km route, but eleven difficult climbs awaited riders – most of them coming in the latter half of the race. Many of these climbs – some of them surfaced with cobblestones – would be difficult on their own, the ascents including the fearsome Oude Kwaremont in their number, at 2.2km in length and a maximum gradient of 11.6%, but to come in such quick succession and with yesterday’s racing in the legs of most of the riders, the tough day would be made even tougher. A fast pace in the final circuit in the streets of Kuurne would make the finale even harder.
The first hour and a half of the day was punctuated with several false starts as while breaks attempted to go up the road, the pace in the peloton was simply too fast. It wasn’t until more than 70km had passed that an escape finally stuck, with a group of nine quickly building an advantage of more than four minutes. At this point, the peloton eased off the pace, the lead rising to almost six minutes. However, as the race entered the final 80km, a surge of urgency from the peloton rapidly closed the gap, with a small escape group making the bridge to catch some of the stragglers of the break – with UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan in their midst – before making contact with the front with 35km to go.
A lone break off the front surprised many in the lead group, but the Slovak BORA – hansgrohe rider wasn’t fazed, and with 26km remaining made his move to bridge the gap, the lead group becoming five as others joined, and as the race entered its final 10km, it looked as though the race’s winner would be from this group. Tightening his shoes with 2.5km to go, it was clear Peter had his eye on the finale, his compatriots looking around nervously as they hit the final kilometre. A late attack came as the chasing bunch behind surged into view. Seeing the bunch looming, Peter attacked, but his sheer power meant he could afford to take it easy as he pushed to the line, taking his first victory of the season, the 90th of his career, and BORA – hansgrohe’s first ever win as a UCI WorldTeam.
Speaking from the finish line, Peter was pleased with both his performance and his team, who supported him in the earlier climbs. “Today I felt good, thanks to the team because they did good work on the Kwaremont. The whole team was pulling for me. I wondered if the group would make the catch and we’d have a normal bunch sprint, but after they started attacking on the first lap, after that I was in the front in the breakaway and was really glad the guys in the front were working well. In the end we came to the finish just five guys and it was good – I’m happy for this victory, both for me and the team.”
While other riders in the break appeared startled by the appearance of the chasing group at the finish, Peter kept his cool and stayed in control in the sprint. “It was a little bit of a slow sprint today. Trentin attacked early and then I came to get him, then we slowed again at 500m to go and it was a slow sprint. I thought if I started from 250m I could have a good attack from the start.”
“It is really great to get this win today here in Belgium. This first weekend was terrific for us and Peter once again showed his supreme class. The guys worked before the Kwaremont to put him in a good position. That worked well and Peter was in the front group when the peloton split. Even we just had Peter in front the situation was good for us because we had with Sam, Schwarzi and Pascal all our 3 sprinters in the group behind. In the final Peter made the right move in the perfect situation to break from the others. Also in the sprint his timing was perfect today”, admitted BORA – hansgrohe sports director Steffen Radochla.
With the first Monument – the Strade Bianche – Peter’s next race, the UCI World Champion was taking every race as it came, looking to maintain his form. “The big goal now is to stay strong. If that comes, everything is good.”