“Pick out your destiny, today,” Michel Wuyts, the race compère instructed Peter Sagan at the sign-on in Deinze’s Grote Markt before a huge Sunday morning crowd. Given the run of six second places and no victories since the season started, Sagan avoided the predictable riposte. “My time is coming,” he said instead. Equally predictable, perhaps, but Sagan had the air of a man confident in his method, and his waxing form.
Six hours later, after leading the peloton over the Kemmelberg and causing the decisive split, Sagan was in the finishing straight in Wevelgem. He read Katusha rider Viacheslav Kuznetsov’s hapless early sprint easily and breezed past for his first win in the rainbow jersey. A low-key celebration, the flash of a smile and a congrats from Fabian Cancellara and Sagan seemed to be processing the result already. With the 25-year-old it’s always the prep that matters, not the place. And anyway, as he made clear in the press conference afterwards, Flanders was most important.
Tristan Hoffman, Tinkoff’s DS, was a better reflection of the mood around the squad where nervousness was replaced by relief. Hoffman was more expansive than his megastar charge, and admitted his heart rate had climbed through the roof and that he’d be celebrating that night.
“I was on a very, very good day,” Sagan remarked in the flash interview just before the podium preparation. And as he spoke, with stragglers still coming over the line, the thundershower that had been threatening all afternoon finally burst, drenching everything and everyone in chilly, vitalising spring rain.
That should have been the last word. But in the hours that followed, news that Antoine Demoitié, the young, keen Wanty-Groupe Gobert rider, was fighting a losing battle for his life after a motorbike had fallen on him following a crash, cast a pall over the race and the sport which lasted the rest of the year – and for his friends, his widow and his family, probably the rest of their lives. A race irrevocably disfigured by tragedy.
Sagan’s rivals keep a close eye, but it’s not enough: he’ll win the sprint