WEVELGEM, Belgium (VN) — Peter Sagan is on fire ahead of the Tour of Flanders, proving again Sunday at Ghent-Wevelgem that he can’t be discounted for a win.
Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) won in Wevelgem, but even he is eyeing Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale). Boonen said after the race, “He’s one of the biggest talents around right now.”
The 22-year-old Sagan won a stage each in the Tour of Oman and Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this year, and has remained at the front since in some of the toughest classics. In Milan-San Remo he placed fourth and E3 Harelbeke, a mini Flanders, he followed Boonen’s accelerations on the bergs. Today, he finished second to Boonen, one of the most experienced classics riders in the peloton.
“Boonen was so much stronger in the sprint, he put a bike’s length on me. We started off side-by-side almost, I looked at the video, but he just had that much more kick,” Sagan told VeloNews. “Maybe my error was to mark [Fabian] Cancellara so much after the Monteberg climb. That little bit of energy there could’ve served me in the final.”
Sagan is still learning. He only turned professional with Italy’s Liquigas team in 2010. From Žilina, Slovakia, he is learning Italian and English to fit in.
Team sports director, Stefano Zanatta, took note of Sagan in 2008 after he won the cross-country title at the junior mountain bike world championships in Trento, Italy. After watching his progress for another year, Zanatta offered Sagan a three-year contract, through 2012.
Zanatta and Liquigas nurtured him, but even in his neo-pro season, Sagan could hardly contain his explosiveness. In his debut year, he won two stages at Paris-Nice and the Tour of California (as well as the points and best young rider jerseys at the latter) and one at the Tour de Romandie. He kept on last year, breaking through with three Vuelta España stage wins in his first grand tour.
“He only needs someone around him who knows the classics,” Boonen added. “Right now he’s a little alone in the races. However, I expect to see him around for the next 10 years fighting for wins.”
Sagan had 25-year-old Daniel Oss with him today and in recent races. He said that most of the Ghent-Wevelgem team would go on to race at Flanders.
“I don’t have the same experience as Boonen and Cancellara, but it will arrive with time,” Sagan explained. “I think that for now, however, I’m ok for Flanders.”
He continued to VeloNews, “I’ve only done it once before, so it will be important for the team to stay connected via race radio to talk about what’s coming, etc. I will try to stay next to the usual riders and then go from there.”
Sagan said that he’s been unable to preview the new course, which ends with three hellish circuits near Oudenaarde. This coming week he will race the Three Days of De Panne, which uses some of Flanders’ climbs, and rest.
“Luckily for me this year, Flanders ends with three laps, so I’ll have an idea of what’s coming after we get done with the first one.”
After Flanders, he’ll skip Paris-Roubaix because the team wants him to focus on the Amstel Gold Race, which opens the Ardennes classics a week later.