Peter Sagan follows the steps and beats the Steps

No-one’s unsubscribed in recent weeks, so I’m taking that as a sign that you’re either desperate to hear more about cobbled one-day races or that you’re not going to do much more than roll your eyes and ride it out until I get back to writing about the Tour in July.

Our latest appointment was E3 Harelbeke – not a monument, but a major classic – and Peter Sagan was first across the line. Amazingly, considering he seems to win a race pretty much every week, this was actually only his second top level one-day race victory after last year’s Gent-Wevelgem.

How did he do it?

To win cobbled classics, you pretty much have to follow these steps.

  1. Somehow get rid of Fabian Cancellara
  2. Reduce the number of Omega Pharma – Quick Step riders who are still with you
  3. Beat anyone else who happens to be around

Step one was ticked off when the man they somewhat cringe-inducingly call ‘Spartacus’ got caught behind a crash. He powered along in pursuit of the lead group, hoovering up stragglers as he passed them until he was dragging an entire peloton behind him, but couldn’t quite close the gap. This was because no-one in his group could (or would) help him, whereas the riders ahead were all working together beautifully to accomplish their common goal of getting rid of Fabian Cancellara.

On the catchily-named Karnemelkbeekstraat, Sagan accelerated and halved the lead group so that there were only four men left – he, Geraint Thomas and two Omega Pharma – Quick Step riders, Niki Terpstra and Stijn Vandenbergh. This seems to be the way these races always end. Omega Pharma have a whole stack of really strong riders. Tom Boonen’s the main man, but they hedge their bets by sending others on ahead.

The finish

With half of the front group from the same team, one man can attack and his team-mate can sit in someone’s slipstream and do sod all. Attacking takes effort and chasing down an attack takes almost as much effort, while merely following somone who’s chasing down an attack is the easiest job out of the three.

Stijn Vandenbergh attacked repeatedly, but Sagan, and occasionally Thomas, chased him down on each occasion so that the four riders reached the finish together. Niki Terpstra was the sod all doer, but even without having to make as much effort, he still couldn’t beat the big green Slovak. Geraint Thomas came third.

What’s next?

Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. We’re still in Flanders, but there aren’t quite as many hard bits in this race, so the winner might end up sprinting from a bigger group. As well as Sagan, Cancellara and Boonen, Andre Greipel will be there. We’re also still watching John Degenkolb’s moustache closely. You’ll note that it didn’t really feature in Milan-San Remo as we predicted, but actually it was right up there until a puncture in the last couple of kilometres.