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Peter Sagan breaks the ice with victory in a frigid Ghent-Wevelgem

WEVELGEM, Belgium (VN) — Peter Sagan (Cannondale) checked a one-day classic off his to-do list on Sunday, winning Ghent-Wevelgem with a gutsy solo attack.

“As I’ve been saying, we started with Milano-Sanremo and tried in every one,” the 23-year-old Slovak said in a press conference. “The classics are hard to win. This is smaller than Sanremo, Ronde or Roubaix, but I’m happy because I’ve broken the ice.”

He worked his way into an escape group formed by Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling). And to his advantage, of the 11 riders he was the only one with a teammate (Maciej Bodnar).

“We knew the others would be watching him just like in E3 Harelbeke,” team manager Roberto Amadio told VeloNews. “First we worked to get him clear with Bodnar. When the attacks started, though, we told Peter, ‘This is your moment. Go!’”

Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) tried at 4km out. It opened the window for Sagan to launch. Through the race radio, sports director Stefano Zanatta yelled, “Vai! Vai dritto.”

Zanatta expected the attacks to come, so he planned with Sagan to take the race by the scruff of the neck. He told his star to respond, and respond hard.

A classic win in the works

Since turning professional in 2010, Sagan has won a stage in nearly every stage race. In his debut at the Tour de France last year, he went home with three wins and one green jersey. The team was so happy that it gave him a Porsche.

The fame has not gone to his head. Over the winter, he appeared more determined than ever to win his first one-day classic. Last year, he already had a string of top fives, and heading into Sunday’s race he had placed second in Milano-Sanremo and E3 Harelbeke.

When the moment came on Sunday, he seized it.

“Others tried to attack, then I thought I’d be better to go solo to get some speed because no one was pulling hard. It was my moment to attack,” Sagan said. “It worked in my favor, I was on my own and the other riders behind were disorganized.”

Eager to win

Sagan probably did not sleep well Saturday night. When he went down to the lobby for breakfast Sunday at the Hotel Kennedy in Kortrijk, Belgium, the first thing he asked Amadio was if the organizer kept in the cobbled climbs.

Overnight, a snowstorm hit Belgium hard, and the organizer cut the first 52km of the race. But this morning, despite a hard wind and temperatures of -2°C, Amadio confirmed to Sagan that yes, they had left the famous Kemmelberg and other cobbled climbs in the race.

“He was eager to win,” Amadio added. “I could see it the way he kept asking me about the course.”

Sagan approached the race with a smile, which helped.

In the last week, his rivals raced against him and gave him little space to put on his show. His second places in Milano-Sanremo and E3 Harelbeke got under his skin. However, he had talked with the team and cleared the air.

He approached Ghent-Wevelgem with the same determination he showed when he attacked in his first pro appearance, the criterium that opened up the 2010 Tour Down Under in Adelaide.

“It’s not like I can win all the races, the others are watching me and it makes it even harder,” Sagan said.

“If I placed second in the last two races, it only shows that I was up there with the favorites. I keep a positive outlook, a negative thing would be finishing in the last group or abandoning. I’ve been finishing second, so there’s no reason not to smile.”

Free of his rivals, the Sagan show closed in style. Crossing the line, Sagan waved an imaginary lasso and then pulled of a one-handed wheelie. It was a lighthearted way for him to celebrate his first classic win.