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Despite his impressive run through the cobbled classics, Peter Sagan (Cannondale) isn’t ready to hang the bike up for the spring. He is targeting Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race in the Netherlands, spurred on by a narrow miss in the Ardennes opener in 2012.
“Last year I was third and I remember being left with a bitter taste in my mouth,” Sagan said Friday in a team press release. “Then I realized that result, in such a hard race, was something important. I understood that the Amstel Gold Race was a classic suited for me; this will be the starting point of my performance on Sunday to try to win.”
Aside from Flanders/Roubaix double champion Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard), Sagan has been the man of the spring. A winner at Gent-Wevelgem and a double stage victor at Tirreno-Adriatico in March, Sagan was one of two men to watch throughout the cobbles campaign.
After sitting out Paris-Roubaix to rest, he carried that momentum into the midweek Brabantse Pijl semi-classic in the Flemish and Walloon Brabant, west of the Ardennes hills. Sagan countered a late attack from Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and nipped the Belgian’s world champion teammate, Philippe Gilbert, at the line. The Slovak champion said he started Wednesday’s race to gauge his fitness after a week away from racing. He started a lower-tier race in France on Thursday, but abandoned partway through.
With a week of hilly classics opening on Sunday in the Dutch Limburg region, Sagan is targeting another major victory, atop the Cauberg climb, where Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) and Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol) denied him one year ago.
“I always said that to be one of the leaders in the classics season was the first, big goal of my season,” said Sagan. “The results I achieved so far are really good and I could think the target is reached. But I don’t want to settle and the Amstel Gold Race is an important race I would like to add.”
The constantly winding, undulating circuit through the Limburg hills east of Maastricht is one of the most stressful of the season. With a new finishing circuit that adds two late climbs and a startlist that will include Gilbert, Van Avermaet, Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), the pressure at the front of the race will be that much higher.
“The victory in Brabantse on Wednesday was a boost of confidence,” said Sagan. “I think the competition will be a key factor during the race, especially in the final phases. Compared to the cobbled classics, the Amstel is a more open race. And we have to consider also the changes of the route from 2012.”
With Strade Bianche winner Moreno Moser, Sagan’s Cannondale team should pack a lethal one-two punch on the Bemelerberg and Cauberg, the race’s final two climbs. With a wild, tactical finale possibly on tap, the duo will look to deliver a case of Amstel Gold to the Italian squad’s bus above Valkenburg and replace the bitter taste of a 2012 defeat with the taste of water, barley malt, and hops.
“The final circuit, the same of the 2012 world champs, is easier and more advantageous for someone who wants to attack. The management of the race during the last 30km will be fundamental as well as team’s support. I know I can count on strong and motivated teammates. Then we’ll also see how other teams will conduct their race. It will be a really tactical finale and any hesitation could be fatal.”
Cannondale for the 2013 Amstel Gold Race: Peter Sagan, Moreno Moser, Damiano Caruso, Stefano Agostini, Alessandro De Marchi, Michel Koch, Daniele Ratto, and Maciej Paterski