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"By far the best race for the team was Ronde van Vlaanderen, and Peter was well supported there even with the younger guys in the team. When you have a rider like Peter in the team it is often hard to have guys that can be with him to...

Photo: Sirotti
14.04.2016 @ 20:04 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Much of the cobblestone classics pass by in a blur of dust, colour and agony, but the whole cobblestone classics campaign has flown by, coming to a crescendo this past weekend at the Hell of the North, Paris-Roubaix. Tinkoff can look back fondly on a successful campaign that included four wins, with Peter Sagan’s monument victory at Ronde van Vlaanderen being the real crowning point.
 
You have to scroll back to the end of February to pick up from the start of the campaign, and the team nearly kicked things off in winning ways when Sagan finished second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad – the start of a string of second places for the UCI World Champion. The result came after a hard fought race over 13 bergs and 10 cobblestone sectors, ending in a four up sprint for the line.
 
Just the following day the same line-up was in the mix again at Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne where Sagan sprinted to seventh place after another attacking display, stretching his legs over the Kwaremont amongst other climbs that would later play a big role in his Flanders victory.
  
At the time, Sport Director Lars Michaelsen assessed the start well: “Overall it’s been a good opening weekend for us in Belgium that we can improve on as well as taking the positive points. And we have time left between now and the big classics at the end of March and start of April to sharpen up certain areas.”
 
A trip to Italy that would see Sagan again in the thick of the action at Strade Bianche – taking fourth – and Tirreno-Adriatico where he nearly pulled off his first GC win of the season, missing out by just one second. Despite the frustration at a lack of victory, it was clear for all amongst the team to see that Saganøs form was getting increasingly better at just the right time before a return to Belgium. First up though was the small task of the 293km Milano-Sanremo, one to forget for the team after a superb display of team riding to get Sagan into the perfect position for the finale, only for him to be halted in his tracks behind a crash with just 300m to go. Unfortunately for the team, Daniele Bennati crashed out of the race and would be ruled out any riding for over a month, a dent to the classics line-up.
 
With the main classics line-up in Italy, a team of six riders rolled out Tinkoff’s fifth win of the season, when 22-year-old Erik Baška sprinted to victory at the Handzame Classic, a semi-classic, but a timely confidence boost for the team ahead of what was to come.
  
Next up was Dwars door Vlaanderen, with Oscar Gatto leading the charge at the scene of his 2013 win. After showing his strength on the day’s difficulties, including the Kwaremont and Paterberg, he too was to miss out on a deserved top result, finishing seventh in a tight and hairy sprint. But it was another day on the roads that would be the setting for Tinkoff’s biggest win of the spring.
 
Sagan returned to racing at E3 Harelbeke followed by Gent – Wevelgem, with just a day’s rest between the two. The double header started well with Sagan making the decisive move of the day with Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky), despite there still being over 30km to race. A strong collaboration followed from the two who have often found themselves up the road together, but in the sprint at the end Sagan ran out of steam, fading to finish second.


Eager to make up for this, Sagan was looking for his second victory at Gent - Wevelgem. With Pavel Brutt making the day’s breakaway, the scene was set for Tinkoff’s leader, as Sagan stamped his authority on the race, making the decisive move before going on to take a commanding win in a four-man sprint finish.
 
Speaking after the race, a thrilled Sagan talked about his first win. “I'm very happy that I've won finally with this jersey. It's an important race for me also - it’s the second time I have won here. I want to dedicate this victory to my father in law as he had a hard time yesterday and I'm very happy to have won this race for him, and for our team owner, Oleg Tinkov.”
 
Tinkoff went on to more success on the final day of Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde when Maciej Bodnar, one of the relentless hard workers behind the team’s successes, took the win in the final stage time trial. The week would be bitter sweet for Bodnar as just days after he found himself in hospital, ruled out of supporting Sagan at Flanders following a nasty crash in training.
 
With Bodnar supporting from the sidelines, the team had extra motivation for the second monument of the season, Ronde van Vlaanderen, a race that Sagan had his eyes on since the start of the season. After attacking a long way out at E3 and Gent – Wevelgem, Sagan once again surprised the whole field when he jumped clear with over 30km remaining. Having dropped the last of those still with him, he soloed to his first monument victory over the final 15km, having time to pull his trademark wheelie over the finish line in Oudenaarde to the applause of all around – confirmation of his presence as one of the stars of the classics.
  
Sport Director, Lars Michaelsen, praised his huge effort, as well as the rest of the team, after the race. "Going into the race our strategy was quite clear – focused on one lone leader and the whole team believed in Peter and the plan. We spoke in our performance plan for the race about who should do what at what time today and everyone really contributed as they could to the victory, so it was a strong display from the whole team today.”
 
All that remained for the team’s cobblestone classics campaign now was Scheldeprijs and Paris-Roubaix, the first of which would would allow the team to test their custom Specialized S-Works Roubaix bikes and get a final long ride in the legs.

After his win in Flanders, all eyes were on Sagan at Roubaix to be on the podium in the velodrome, but in a race like Roubaix anything can happen. 

From the off it was clear it was going to be a tough day in the saddle with a breakaway taking over 80km to form, followed crosswinds and crashes as the race hit the cobblestones. The team did what they could to keep Sagan in position ahead of each sector but on the decisive Trouée d’Arenberg he was already on the back foot, chasing in the third group behind a select split of favourites. Fast-forward to the final stages and it wasn’t to be for Sagan , eventually sprinting to 11th place, still a valiant effort. Not the result he or the team were after but nonetheless the race rounded out a successful campaign for Tinkoff and Sagan especially, a period of racing that saw him move to the top of the UCI WorldTour Individual Rankings, as well as the team assuming the top spot also thanks to Alberto Contador’s strong results in France and Spain.
 
“Planning for the classics in Belgium is always the first fight but we arrived in good shape with a solid plan for the whole campaign,” explained Sport Director Tristan Hoffman, present in Belgium from start to finish. “The opening weekend with Omloop and Kuurne kicked things off well for us but then then it all kicked off at Dwars Door Vlaanderen really where where Oscar raced to 7th. It was a good start for us with several young guys there to get the experience of the kind of racing.
  
“The first real big race is E3 and Peter coming second was a big boost for the team. OK it wasn’t the win we wanted but it showed that we were there and ready for the races to come. By far the best race for the team was Ronde van Vlaanderen, and Peter was well supported there even with the younger guys in the team. When you have a rider like Peter in the team it is often hard to have guys that can be with him to help in the final but on this day Oscar rode a great race to help Peter before he went up the road.
 
“Getting the first win at Gent – Wevelgem was a big release. The team had a special moment that day, and after the podium the whole team was waiting for Peter in the bus after for a celebration. I don’t think we could have have predicted at the start of the season the string of results we would achieve.
 
“The young guys like Michael Gogl and Erik Baška showed good signs of strength in these races. They’ve performed well before and we know they’re strong, but performing and sprinting against the best in these races is something else. Then Juraj Sagan stepped up well to be a strong help for positioning and being there until late on to support his brother.
 
“We maybe missed Daniele Bennati and Maciej Bodnar after their crashes but you have to keep pushing when these things happen. There were also the hard moments with the passing of Antoine Demoitié and Daan Myngheer, especially as the team had strong links with Daan’s family at the classics. But we managed to keep the boys focused and together to continue doing what we had to do.
 
“It’s great working with Peter – he showed in the classics that he’s a real star, but he is just himself and is grounded and is normal with the fans and the press which is great to see. He is still young and if he continues like this he will go on to win a lot of other big races in his career.

 

“For me personally the best experience was at Flanders, as it’s such a huge and special race. There was the tension until late on as to whether he would hold on, not as much as at Gent – Wevelgem but still amazing to see and be a part of. The whole team did an amazing job over the whole campaign from the soigneurs, mechanics, sport directors, bus driver and everyone else on the ground, to those making sure everything is organised and happening from back in the office. Now it’s onto the Ardennes and I’ll be watching with excitement to see how the team gets on there.”
 
In Numbers
1,770.3km of cobblestone classics raced
One monument win
Three other race wins
Two second places
Two other top tens
Top spot of the UCI WorldTour Team Rankings
Top two spots of the UCI WorldTour Individual Rankings (Contador in second)

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