Peter Sagan exudes an air of invincibility at his very best, but a series of second places, this season and last, suggest that the Slovak, still only 24, is not yet the finished article. Success in almost any race you care to mention seems within his grasp, however, and with the scent of victory still in his nostrils from an impressive triumph at E3 Harelbeke, he will fancy the task of defending his title at Wevelgem.
Rewind 12 months and Sagan won his first cobbled Classic with a swagger, wheelie-ing into Wevelgem having ridden away from the likes of Van Avermaet and Flecha with seeming ease. He was made to pay for his insouciance by Fabian Cancellara (Trek) mere days later at E3 Harelbeke, but he has already settled that score this season and will roll out in Deinze fancying his self-imposed task of winning all four of cycling’s cobbled Classics.
Who can stop him? We’ll consider the credentials of his rivals on the following pages, but the rider seemingly most capable of derailing Sagan’s ambitions is Sagan himself. Prodigously talented, but prone to mistakes, a toll of four second places in last year’s Spring Classics suggest that Sagan remains a work in progress.
There have been occasions too, where he simply hasn’t had the legs: see last season’s engagements at Harelbeke and the Ronde, where Cancellara simply rode away from him, and more recently at Strade Bianche, where he had no answer for Michael Kwiatkowski’s decisive attack; at Milan-San Remo, too, where he finished tenth in an elite group of ten, he was unable to finish the job.
Sagan then will start tomorrow at once the firm favourite and the man most likely to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Few will be surprised if he wins and adds a second cobbled Classic to his palmares in as many races. Fewer still will be surprised if bungles the job.