E3 HAREL­BEKE

Procycling - - Review Of The Year 2016 - BY BARRY RYAN

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

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