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Sagan trades ‘mistakes’ for first win of 2016

WEVELGEM, Belgium (VN) — Peter Sagan says he refused to make the same mistakes so that he could finally win his first race as world champion Sunday at Belgium’s Gent-Wevelgem.

Team Tinkoff’s leader attacked over the Kemmelberg climb, joined forces with Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo), Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), and Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha), and beat them in the sprint after 242 kilometers. It was his first victory in the rainbow jersey that he took last September at worlds in Richmond, Virginia.

Sagan has placed second six times this year, including two days ago a E3 Harelbeke. He escaped with Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) in Friday’s race, but saw his rival sprint clear for the win.

“It was a little bit different today. What do you want to hear? I think everyone knows I was tired. Yeah. I worked a lot Friday and then in the final, I was like how I was. There’s not too much story about it,” Sagan explained.

“Today, Vanmarcke was pulling, but he stopped, but cycling is like that. I said I won’t make the same mistake as before and pull to the finish. We had a good gap to the group. The guy from Katusha began early and I said, ‘I have to go behind him,’ and he pulled me a very good sprint.”

The Slovakian overcame a few uncertain moments after his teammates missed an early split in the Flemish crosswinds that often rip through the farmlands. Tinkoff worked to pull the second peloton back to him. The neon yellow team of Russian millionaire Oleg Tinkov reshuffled the deck and allowed Sagan his space to attack on the second time up the cobbled Kemmelberg climb.

Sagan appeared to suffer after an initial spark when he turned professional. In his final year with Cannondale and in his first with Tinkoff in 2015, Sagan became a nearly man. He won the green points jersey at the Tour de France last year, but placed second five times. The season would have been viewed as a disaster had he not won the world championship road race in Richmond.

The 2016 season risked going the same way with several top finishes, but zero wins leading to today. Sagan said he was unfazed by the placings, however.

“Why would I panic?” Sagan said. “In life there’s more important things than victories or second places. I’m riding for passion, not for ambition.”

Sagan became only the second cyclist to win in the rainbow jersey in Gent-Wevelgem since Rik Van Looy in 1962. He also set himself up for the big ones, the monuments: the Ronde van Vlaanderen next Sunday and Paris-Roubaix the following Sunday. He has won nearly everything already in his career, including Gent-Wevelgem in 2013, but never a monument.

“Today was for me, Sunday could be for somebody different,” Sagan added. “What’s important is that I have good condition. For sure, I will try. I’m happy that I’m on a good way for Flanders and Roubaix.”