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Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe team fell short in Monday’s Tirreno-Adriatico when Quick-Step Floors launched from multiple angles. Teams could repeat the scenario in the upcoming monuments, starting with Milano-Sanremo on Saturday.
“Everyone is beatable, it’s bike riding, and luckily the best doesn’t always win and unluckily, sometimes the best doesn’t win,” Boonen said of the double world champion.
“We can be sure that it’s going to be very difficult for him to win in the classics. Why? Because he’s the best and he doesn’t have the strongest team.
“It’ll be open. The race finals will start a little earlier than normal and everyone will try to isolate him and get away in front of him. I am only saying what the tactics will be for everybody else. They will be aware that he’s there and he’ll be the main guy to beat.”
Boonen is retiring after Paris-Roubaix on April 9 following a long career. The 36-year-old Belgian won the 2005 world title, six Tour de France stages, and dominated the classics. He has three wins in the Tour of Flanders and four in Paris-Roubaix. If he wins either one again, he will set the record for the most victories. In Milano-Sanremo, he placed third in 2007 and second in 2010.
For most of his career, save for 2002, Boonen has ridden for the Quick Step franchise. The team has been one of the most tactically smart in the peloton due in part to its strength in numbers. It showed that with the finish in Civitanova Marche. Niki Terpstra attacked solo and forced Sagan to chase and Fernando Gaviria waited for the eventual sprint, edging out Sagan.
Similar tactics will be needed to beat Sagan in Milano-Sanremo, who bagged two stage wins in Tirreno-Adriatico.
“Every race is different. The way you can adapt to situations, that shows the strength of the team. It’s not having one plan and having that one plan pushed through at all costs, then you get predictive and everyone sees what you’re doing, and you just act to the way they think you are going to do the race. Being unpredictable makes it harder for the others,” Boonen said.
“We’ve got a lot guys going well, so we’ve only got to find the right way to the results. We can all see that Sagan is flying. So it’ll be difficult to beat him and so we have to plan how to beat him and the others.”
Quick-Step will start Milano-Sanremo with an A-list of riders that includes former world champions, Tour stage winners, and classic stars. Gaviria and Matteo Trentin will lead the sprint, Boonen, Terpstra, and Philippe Gilbert will try elsewhere, while Jack Bauer, Fabio Sabatini, and Julien Vermote will fill support roles.
“Yeah,” Boonen said if the team is key to beating Sagan Sanremo and races like Flanders and Roubaix. “It’s not only our team, but all the other teams in the world. Everyone is going to have the same tactic and try to get rid of him.”
When asked directly if Sagan’s team is not as strong as the others, Boonen added, “He has a very good team, but we have to be fair, guys. I mean, you can’t make up the math, eh?”
Sagan’s team includes Sam Bennett, Maciej Bodnar, Marcus Burghardt, Gregor Mühlberger, Aleksejs Saramotins, Cesare Benedetti, and Sagan’s brother Juraj.
Boonen’s team will likely put “all the cards” on Fernando Gaviria in the sprint. As a 21-year-old in his debut last year, the Colombian was positioned for the win but crashed in the final 300 meters.
“I hope to be in the top 10 to 15 positions on the top of the Poggio, where everybody wants to be. Then see if I can put Fernando in a good position. For us right now, he’s the main rider for Milano-Sanremo,” added Boonen.
“If we look back at last year too, he’s good. He’s a young guy but he’s got the talent that he doesn’t need a lot of experience in races. He just feels the race really well, so we put all our cards on him.”