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Is Peter Sagan's status in the Classics already counting against him?

Joseph Delves
28 Mar 2017

With few riders willing to work for the World Champ, Peter Sagan is becoming a victim of his own success and Greg Van Avermaet is benefiting

Last week Peter Sagan was the firm favourite to win the Tour of Flanders, but by Monday he found himself almost evenly tied with Greg Van Avermaet in the affections of cycling fans looking to have a flutter on the Ronde. The simple explanation for this is that on Sunday, Van Avermaet added a first place at Gent-Wevelgem to wins at E3 Harelbeke and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, while Sagan was only able to manage third.

However that demonstration of form from Van Avermaet isn’t Sagan's only problem.

When you’re considered to be the best, nobody wants to do you any favours. The greatest Classics racer of his generation Fabian Cancellara spent the latter years of his career like some kind of cycling mother duck, perpetually trailing a gaggle of younger hangers-on in his wake.

A World Champion time-triallist, eventually he seemed to abandon tactics entirely, instead simply burning off most of the hangers-on who lined up behind his back wheel.

Sagan might have a few wins left to rack up before he’s got quite the same palmeres, but he’s starting to experience some of the same problems. Marked out in the World Champion’s rainbow stripes, the Slovak rider is the favourite in almost every race he enters.

Yet compared to Cancellara, he’ll likely have to employ a more nuanced approach if he wants to give his rivals the slip.

The quintessential bike racer’s bike racer, Sagan shakes up any race he enters. So much so that some have accused him of being a little too keen, expending energy, closing down breaks and launching off the front, only to have other riders take advantage of his efforts.

After Milan-San Remo he joked that eventual winner Michal Kwiatkowski owed him a few beers for towing him over the final climb of the Poggio and to eventual victory.

However he was less amused following Gent-Wevelgem where he was effectively sandbagged by Niki Terpstra, who chased onto the break but then sat in without taking a turn.

With the chasing group locked in a stalemate, Van Avermaet was up the road heading for victory.

While Terpstra’s reluctance to help drag one of the world’s best sprinters to the line is understandable, the World Champ described his tactics as 'a very cheap game.'

Eventually Sagan refused to tow the rider up to the two lead riders. In doing so he claimed that he still decided the outcome of the race, even if he wasn’t able to win it himself.

He essentially put the rest of the peloton on notice that while he’s happy to assist them on the way to a podium spot, if they expect a free ride they’re liable to find him prepared to sit up and sacrifice his own chances in order to get others to work with him.

It’ll be interesting to see if the tactic prevails come the Tour of Flanders this Sunday. Competing in his final season, Classics veteran Tom Boonen didn’t have a huge amount of sympathy for Sagan’s plight, having spent much of his career in the same situation.

'It's up to Sagan to react at that moment. If you're the strongest rider and the World Champion,' he said following Gent-Wevelgem.

Even so, having to live as a marked man isn’t just a problem for Sagan. With a hat trick of big wins behind him Van Avermaet isn’t likely to find himself too many riders willing to work with him either.

Potentially the belief that the race is set to be a showdown between the two riders will make it easier for an outsider to steal a march on both.

With Philippe Gilbert having stomped clear to win the opening stage of Driedaagse De Panne on Tuesday, the ultra-experienced Belgian could well be hoping to nip by the two favourites come the end of the week.

Still with the Ronde seemingly either Sagan’s or Van Avermaet's to lose, both are likely going have to rely on their teammates to drive the race, or accept that spending most of the season having your wheel sucked is a kind of compliment, however frustrating it must be.