The emergence of cyclo-cross stars Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel and the collective might of Deceuninck-QuickStep are the storylines that dominate in the build-up to the Tour of Flanders, leaving Peter Sagan in an unusual position ahead of the Ronde: out of the direct glare of the spotlight.
One senses that the three-time world champion will not be altogether upset at ceding column inches to some new names this week. Being Peter Sagan – the brand as well as the bike rider – is a heavy burden, after all, and anything that lightens the load, even temporarily, can only be welcomed.
For the second successive year, Sagan has elected to stay in Belgium for the week leading up to the Ronde rather than return to his Monaco base. As in 2018, he opted not to line out at Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, preferring to put the finishing touches to his preparation for the Ronde by training with teammate Daniel Oss. Fellow contenders Greg Van Avermaet, Zdenek Stybar and Van Aert are following a similar tack.
“It’s the same model he followed last year, he’s doing all the exercises he needs for his body to recover, and then the right training to get ready for Sunday,” Bora-Hansgrohe directeur sportif Jan Valach told Cyclingnews. “It’s the second year that he’s done this. It depended a little on the weather, we kept an eye on it, and the weather is quite good this week, so he’s staying up here and preparing calmly for the weekend.”
Sagan’s pre-Flanders regimen has again included physiotherapy sessions in Nieuwpoort, in Freddy Maertens country on the North Sea coast, to recover from the rigours of Gent-Wevelgem, ahead of a reconnaissance of the cobbles and hills of the Ronde later in the week. “The races were tough last weekend, but usually he recuperates quickly,” said Valach.
In his three years as world champion, Sagan belied the curse of the rainbow jersey by bagging Classic wins ahead of the Ronde – Gent-Wevelgem in 2016 and 2018, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne in 2017 – but his first year out of tunic has begun a little less effervescently, a stage win at the Tour Down Under notwithstanding.
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