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Smiling Sagan responsive and ready for De Ronde

KORTRIJK, Belgium (VN) — Peter Sagan (Cannondale) appears relaxed and ready ahead of his last chance this year to add a monument, the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), to his already sparkling palmarès.

“Weakness? If I had any, I wouldn’t say what they are!” Sagan said at the Kennedy Hotel in Kortrijk, just 36 hours before the race.

He walked in, grinned, and looked at the press sitting in the hotel’s conference room. “Hello,” he said, “Thanks for coming.”

Another grin across his round face, which still seems to have baby fat. He is only 23, but is one of the biggest favorites to win one of cycling’s five monuments on Sunday.

Just as he was with race attacks in Ghent-Wevelgem last weekend, Sagan was able to respond quickly and smartly to every question asked of him in the press conference. A question about God nearly threw him off, but he had a good answer for that one, too.

“I believe in God, but I think the race is the race. Easter is Easter, it’s a whole other thing,” he said. “But for sure, it’ll be a party for everyone Sunday.”

As the journalists were preparing for their next question, their attack, Sagan kept right on grinning.

The press conference was in Italian. After hearing the question, regardless if it was in English or Italian, Sagan responded in the team’s language. The word “debolezza” kept coming up, which means weakness. What is Sagan’s weakness? There appears to be three: lack of experience, power on the cobbles, and co-leaders. he addressed them all.

“I’ve been racing for a few years here in Belgium, so it helps. Maybe I’ve learned something,” Sagan said. “My results also help ease the pressure so that I don’t arrive to Flanders with a lot building up.”

Sagan took a rest on Thursday after dropping out of the VDK Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde (Three Days of De Panne). Today, along with teammates Kristjan Koren and Maciej Bodnar, he rode 60 kilometers on the Ronde course. He did the larger and the middle loop, repeating the key climbs: Paterberg, Kwaremont, and Koppenberg.

“The climbs are always the same,” Sagan said, “but it was enough to remember what it’s going to be like.”

Team sport director Stefano Zanatta told VeloNews earlier this week that Sagan suffers on the flat cobble sections, like the second half of the 2.2km Kwaremont. In E3 Harelbeke, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) rode Sagan off his wheel on that section. Last year, Sagan missed the winning three-man move in the same section.

“If I’m feeling good,” explained Sagan, “I don’t think it’ll be a problem.”

Sagan’s team may be the other potential problem standing between him and his first monument. More specifically, Cannondale’s lack of co-leaders at the same level as Sylvain Chavanel and Niki Terpstra on Tom Boonen’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step team.

Cannondale rose to the occasion in all the races and took control, but relied on Sagan to finish the job. It is similar to what RadioShack has to do with Cancellara.

“Yeah, but I think that we showed in Milano-Sanremo that were the only ones there pulling. In Harelbeke, without my team, I wouldn’t have been able to come back,” Sagan said. “In Ghent-Wevelgem, it was just Bodnar that pulled so the sprinters weren’t able to catch us. So, I think we’ve shown enough that our team is strong.

“Maybe we don’t have other leaders like Omega and BMC Racing, but that’s okay, maybe it’s to our advantage. Everyone is focused on me, which is the team’s strength.”

Sagan finished the press conference, after a series of questions, with a grin.