ZOTTEGEM, Belgium (VN) — For the third year in a row, Peter Sagan attacked and sprinted to victory in the opening stage of Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde Tuesday in Zottegem, but the victory did not go to plan for the Cannondale phenom.
“This morning we talked about doing the sprint for Oscar Gatto. Peter wanted to try to help him to win a stage,” sports director Mario Scirea told VeloNews. “Oscar lost Sagan’s wheel and a rider got in front of him, though. He tried to get back up in the sprint, but you can’t do it if you are already behind. Peter had a lot of others behind, so he had to keep going.”
Kenneth Van Bilsen (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) was third.
Sagan led a group of 10 riders to Zottegem, south of Brussels. He appeared to pull the brakes as he raced to the line with his Italian teammate, but said in the press conference afterwards that he did not do so.
Sagan boasts 59 victories on his resume, according to Pro Cycling Stats, since he signed a first-division contract in 2010. So many wins in such a short time could make one wonder if Sagan was getting bored of climbing on the podium.
“I wouldn’t say it like that, because it’s always hard to win anyway,” Sagan said. “It’s a ‘thank you’ to the team for their work. My teammates are needed for me to do my job.”
Sagan helped destroy the peloton over the 201 kilometers from De Panne on Belgium’s coast to the finish line in Zottegem. He attacked on the Eikenmolen and the Klemhoutstraat climbs to eliminate many of his rivals and put himself and Gatto in the front group. Gatto, who joined Cannondale this year from Vini Fantini, had Sagan’s blessing in the sprint, but lost contact with his captain in the finale.
“I pulled in the sprint for Oscar,” Sagan said. “I thought he passed me on the line. I thought he had won and I got second, but it was the other way around.”
For the third year in a row, Sagan traded his green jersey for the white leader’s jersey on day 1 of the three-day, four-stage contest.
The Three Days of De Panne marks the final tune-up for Sagan and other classics men ahead of the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) on Sunday. Sagan told VeloNews at Gent-Wevelgem last weekend that he was unsure if he would race the third and final day, which is a split stage, with a short road race in the morning and a time trial in the afternoon. He pulled out of the race ahead of the third day each of the last two years.
Sagan’s top rivals — Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), and Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) — skipped the race to train and rest ahead of De Ronde. Of the big names expected for Flanders on Sundayu, only Sagan and Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma) are racing De Panne.
Sagan explained that De Ronde remains his main goal this week and that he does not want to tire himself needlessly in the Flemish fields. Alessandro Ballan was the last rider to win De Panne and Flanders in the same week, back in 2007.
“It’s more important that I’m ready for Flanders,” Sagan said. “I don’t want to risk a crash. I want to keep my condition for Flanders.”
Three Days of De Panne continues Tuesday with the 206km second stage, from Zottegem to Koksijde.