Sagan crossed the Gent Wevelgem finish line in his typical brash style on Sunday, celebrating with a wheelie and little concern for the group he'd burned in the last few K, who trickled in some 50m behind. After a successful season in 2012, Sagan's been a comfortable choice for anyone picking favorites to win Spring Classics. Although his youthfulness may have cost him the win at MSR, he learned from it and made the right moves to earn victory at Gent Wevelgem 2013.
Here at NQB we’ve discussed Peto internally a bit - he's always been an exceptional rider, excelling at pretty much everything he tried. As evidenced in 2008 where as a 16 year old he finished top 2 in Jr MTB worlds, Jr CX Worlds and Jr Paris Roubaix - but it led me to to think about what might have been in Sagan's case. In 2010 he was approached by Quickstep manager Patrick Lefevere about joining the QS squad. At the time Sagan was just 18 and more known as a MTB rider. He ended up with the Liquigas squad which at the time the team was built around a 3 headed Grand Tour monster (Nibali, Basso coming off a Giro win, Krueziger) so he was certainly well placed.
What does all this have to do with this year's edition of Gent Wevelgem? A classic "what if" scenario unfolds if he'd joined QS. As I mentioned before, youthfulness has gotten the best of Sagan on occasion. On a team like Cannondale, Sagan and Moser are standouts for classics style races without a veteran to show them the ropes. Imagine though, Sagan riding with a then-dominant Tommeke through the Spring 2010 campaign. Rather than winning strictly on talent as he's done this year, he spends several seasons under the guidance of one of the best classics specialists in the peloton.
Not only does Sagan benefit in this scenario - with an uber-domestique like Sagan, Tommeke's battles with Fab for both Paris Roubaix and Ronde von Vlanderen become an altogether different game. Seeing Sagan crank out watts in the final kms of Gent reminded me very much of Fab's 2010 form (albeit not for 40-50km as Fab did) but with that kind of power being put down, Sagan would have been a useful tool to wear Cancellara out before the decisive moments that left Boonen in the dust. Finally, those extra years of guidance bring Sagan to 2013 where he ditches the rubbernecking and puts his classics experience to use for an extra win or two this season.
There were a few other thoughts I had during the race as well. First, a classics win felt almost inevitable for Sagan as he's shown remarkable dominance this season. However, my mind was on another rider, someone we've mentioned a few times here at NQB, who's had the legs but not always the luck to take a win: Heinrich Haussler. He led the attack that split off the eventual winners of the race, (although he didn't have much good to say about his companions in the break) and it's good to finally see him make a decisive difference in a race as we haven't seen much of him since his 2009 breakout season. Gilbert also made a few digs which (aside from his performance at Worlds last year) we haven't really seen since his standout 2011 season. Greg Van Avermaet again knew where to be to ensure a good placing; we're strong believers that on another team (Lotto-Belisol anyone?) he could be the protected leader on their classics squad instead of random BMC rider #5. He's done well so far in the classics which puts BMC in an interesting light given the number of classics killers (or...former classics killers *cough* Thor) on their roster. When it was all said and done, Sagan earned a victory with a well timed powerhouse attack. Instead of waiting around, he took matters into his own hands, something he'd definitely learned from his mistake at MSR, but I couldn't help think he'd have learned it 2 years ago if he made a different choice.