Sagan. Up, down, win, lose.
Classics superstars Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara will both be watching the Tour of Flanders instead of racing it. That leaves the door wide open for the ex-prodigy and sudden underachiever Peter Sagan.
Here at Twisted Spoke, we suspect that the Ronde will function as an elevator for Sagan and the only question is one of direction. Either Sagan takes the elevator all the way up to the podium or he rides the elevator ll the way to the basement where crabby team owner Oleg Tinkov is waiting with five Russian thugs holding lead pipes.
The epic Ronde and next week’s evil cobblestone brother Paris-Roubaix will define what Sagan’s 2015 campaign. There is always the chance he might do something later in the year but failure now will drop his morale and jack up the media pressure so high that a win will be even header to deliver.
In fact, life could get very ugly now that Tinkov has fired his best race tactician Bjarne Riis, a man who also believed in team camaraderie and focus. That went out the window with Tinkov’s management blunder and desperate need for power.
The inventible drop in morale and organizational fear and chaos will significantly impact Contador’s shot at the Giro d’Italia but at least the Spaniard is known for his mental toughness and immunity to psychological gamesmanship.
The same can not be said for the younger Sagan and in an environment where the team is already confused about the reasons for his lack of wins, the removal of Riis rocks the Tinkoff-Saxo boat even more. Although boat apologies really aren;t the best for a bike race story.
Which way is that elevator going to go? A win in Flanders or Paris-Roubaix shuts up all the critics, kills the can’t win narrative and re-launches a stalled career. Sagan would again be the smiling guy doing a victory wheelie on the velodrome in Roubaix. The hundreds of journals asking “when you going to win a classic” would disappear forever.
Does Sagan have it in him to win the Hell of the North? A podium merely confirms an old story about talent; a win is the requirement at this point. The vacuum left by the injuries to Cancellara and Boonen provide the golden opportunity to get the monkey off his back, run it over several times and kick it into the bushes.
Still, a solitary win this year in Tirreno-Adriatico is hardly the sign of big things to come in Flanders. When his own team is openly confused about what’s going on with Sagan — wrong training , hunger-bonk, tactical confusion, trouble dealing with pressure, bad horoscope — well, then the elevator is headed down. There’s no confidence in the Tinkoff-Saxo camp, just a guarded and nervous anticipation of impending difficulties. It’s like a Sagan death watch with the twitter-trigger happy Tinkov ready to castigate.
If there is one star rider that’s already isolated in Flanders before the race has even begun, it’s Peter Sagan. There’s no doubt in our mind he misses the comfort of Cannonade, the smaller salary, the lower marking on the stress gauge. One obvious sign of his struggles — besides the glaring lack of results — is the disappearance of fun. Sagan looks, sounds, moves like a guy with a high stress corporate job that is killing his joie de bike.
The loss of Riis and the installation of a Tinkov puppet is another sign that the good-times at the Cannondale Summer Camp are a distant memory. In short, the 19 helligen of Flanders are the least of his problems. Getting his head straight is the real task. Hard to accomplish that in a disruptive and negative environment but that’s the deliverable.
The counter argument — the elevator up scenario — is based on one simple fact: Sagan is Sagan. A young rider so immensely talented that at any given race, sprint stage, one day classic, cobbled monument — he can win with a burst of pure speed, a fearless descent or a powerful uphill surge that other fast men simply don’t possess. The feeling is that while the bill is overdue, the money is definitely in the bank and payment will occur.
The pure, un-cut talent story trumps the bad luck, poor strategy, lack of experience, disappear of Riis, lack of team support, etc etc. One way or another, short on confidence or form and missing the fun, Sagan is going to deliver and his life will return to normal. Normal being the showboat wheelie, the it’s-my-party grin, the happy go-lucky Sagan we used to see until the money got too big and the stress ramped up to Hors Categorie.
Our take: thee will be no stress-cleansing win during the Holy Week of Flanders and Roubaix. Sadly, elevator down.