Bora Hansgrohe announced today that Peter Sagan will miss the classics ‘opening weekend’ of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on 27 & 28 February.
The decision comes after Sagan contracted coronavirus while on a training camp in Gran Canaria. Sagan’s brother Juraj and one other Bora-Hansgrohe teammate also had COVID-19 and were all restricted to staying indoors for ten days while they recovered – and it is this lack of training which is thought to be behind the decision to delay Sagan’s season start.
While Sagan’s full programme has not been announced by the team, he is now expected to begin his season at Strade Bianche, before heading to Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-Sanremo. It will mean he faces a race against time to get to full fitness before the cobbled Monuments in early April.
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It certainly seems like the success train is slowing down for 'Three-Pete'. He bagged one victory last year, and that in a stage of the Giro d'Italia and we have to go back nearly three full years to his last victory in a classic.
The Slovakian has won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne before but only ever managed consecutive second places in the more prestigious Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, which takes place the preceding day. It will be a disappointment for the three-time world champ not to have another chance at adding Omloop to his palmarès, but the impacts of this announcement go much further than that.
Without wishing to denigrate two august racing institutions, neither of the opening weekend races are nearly so prestigious as the like of Milan-Sanremo or even the comparative WorldTour parvenu, Strade Bianche. Opening weekend is exactly that, a chance to put down a marker and start building form, not the be-all and end-all of a rider’s year. And so Sagan is now faced with the task of starting his season in races that will, for many of his competitors, represent the year’s biggest goals. And they will be bringing race-tuned bodies into the event, as well.
We have already seen Julian Alaphilippe full of pugilism and panache at the Tour de La Provence last week, with the Frenchman running Ivan Sosa very close for the overall win. He is expected to ride Omloop, too, before meeting Sagan on the start line of Strade Bianche at the beginning of March.
And then you have the likes of Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel who will both be coming into this road season with an enormous amount of cyclocross already in their legs. Neither is slated to participate in opening weekend, but they have probably got enough miles in the bank at this moment to put their feet up. Sagan, meanwhile, has been doing “core work” in Gran Canaria and now intends to stay on the island to make up for lost time.
Of course, it’s impolite to mention a bike rider’s age, especially one who is still thought of by many (or at least by this writer) as the ‘future of cycling’. But Peter Sagan is 31. Riders have won classics much older than that, but it is not the norm. Philippe Gilbert’s Tour of Flanders win came when he was 34. Vincenzo Nibali bagged a spectacular Sanremo victory aged 33, and Alejandro Valverde was still doing the Liège-Flèche double as late as 2017. These results will all serve to encourage Sagan, no doubt, but nobody could deny that time and circumstance are against him.
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