An impressive win for Peter Sagan (Cannondale) in a very tactical finale of the E3 Harelbeke has netted the Slovak his first big Classic win of 2014 – and a fifth place in the UCI WorldTour individual rankings.
Although the top four places of the UCI WorldTour individual ranking remain unchanged, with Carlos Alberto Betancur (AG2R La Mondiale) as the overall leader with 114 points, Sagan has jumped from 33rd to fifth, with 93 points. And Sunday’s Ghent-Wevelgem Classic, which he won last year, could see the Cannondale pro climb even higher in the classification.
In the E3 Harelbeke Sagan certainly showed he knows how to keep a cool head under pressure, when he managed to defeat two Omega Pharma-Quick Step riders, Niki Terpstra and Stijn Vandenbergh, as well as Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) after the four broke away in the final hour of racing.
Two attacks by Vandenbergh in the last three kilometres were brought back by Thomas and Sagan, and the Slovak then won the four-way sprint ahead of Terpstra and Thomas. It was an impressive solo effort, but Sagan nonetheless paid tribute to how his team-mates had helped him win.
“I want to thank the team today, particularly my team-mate who has the same size bike as me and who swapped bikes with me after about 100km,” he said.
“I didn’t think the race would go well but I felt better and better. The finale was tough and there was a lot of crashes. On the Oude Kwaremont [climb] when we caught the break, I attacked to create a small group and we managed to go all the way to the finish.”
Australia remain in command of the UCI WorldTour nations ranking with the same points total – 336 – and margin ahead of closest pursuers Spain – 266 – with the only major change a move by Great Britain up one place into fifth with 205 points. However, the teams classification has witnessed some important alterations.
Movistar Team remain leaders with 218 points, but Team Sky have made a dramatic advance in the game, drawing equal to the Spaniards with an identical total of 218 and overhauling AG2R La Mondiale, who drop to third with 216 points.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step are the other team to profit from the first Belgian cobbled Classic, gaining five places to advance to fourth overall with 193 points. Sagan’s Cannondale squad, meanwhile, move up from the last place in the ranking, 18th, to 11th.
Next up on the UCI WorldTour’s series of one-day Classics is Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday, run over a slightly longer distance to the E3 Harelbeke: 233 kilometres. Nine cobbled climbs, the most difficult a double ascent of the Kemmelberg and Monteberg, could shatter the bunch. But with nearly 35 kilometres from the foot of the Monteberg to the finish, it will be difficult to predict whether a bunch sprint will materialise or a small break manages to stay away on the narrow, exposed roads on the long ride towards Wevelgem.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale), the 2013 winner and clearly in form at Harelbeke will be taking part, as will be Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), who won Ghent-Wevelgem in 2004, 2011 and 2012.
Boonen’s team-mate Mark Cavendish, who has long had Ghent-Wevelgem in his sights, is another top name, whilst sprinter John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano), former winner and all-rounder Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky), Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) will also be taking part.
Coinciding with the end of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, Sunday is bound to see some major changes in the UCI WorldTour classification. Whether a clear leader of the UCI WorldTour individual rankings will finally emerge, though, remains to be seen.