Another Peter Sagan defeat and another stewards’ inquiry, yet the man himself didn’t seem unduly concerned that his duck in the rainbow jersey continued unchecked at E3 Harelbeke. Perhaps he knew something that everyone else didn’t.
It was certainly perplexing that Sagan, so effervescent in forging clear with Team Sky’s Micha¯ Kwiatkowski on the wickedly steep Karnemelkbeekstraat, was then so pedestrian in the two-up sprint against the Pole. Scarcely able to lift himself from the saddle, Sagan was soundly beaten into another second-place finish, his seventh since becoming world champion.
During his first, trying, spring at Tinkoff in 2015, Sagan responded to such displays by shutting himself aboard the team bus and refusing to talk to the press but he bore the setback with rather more levity here. When Kwiatkowski received the winner’s bouquet on the podium, Sagan produced a playful display of pantomime acting, standing with his back to the scene and folding his arms in an exaggerated show of disappointment, before waving to the spectators below.
Shortly afterwards, Sagan was marshalled towards Sporza’s makeshift studio near the finish, where he sat alongside Eddy Planckaert and was asked to explain this latest defeat. Sagan can often be terse on such occasions, offering only deadpan answers, but he faced this inquisition with good grace. “I think I did a lot of work and I was just without legs in the final,” he laughed.
Every gesture is amplified in Flanders in late March and every result given meaning far beyond its immediate impact. As Sagan emerged from the cabin, a local news crew thrust a microphone in his face and issued a grave reminder that the day of days was now just over a week away. “Are you ready for the Ronde?” Sagan was already reaching for his bike as he answered. “I am preparing all the year for the Tour of Flanders,” he said simply, seeing no cause for alarm.
Sagan manages to keep his hands to himself on the E3 podium. What a long way he has come