SAGAN: "De Ronde favourite? Kindersurprise!"
In a clearly forced pre-race press conference world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) grinningly claimed that "everyone's a favourite" for this Sunday's Tour of Flanders.
Though these pre-race press conferences are often a game of how-to-hide-my-cards, Sagan had especially few words to spend on the assembled press.
What started off in a good atmosphere, with the title defender taking pictures with fans outside and showing his steak grilling skills, quickly turned into mysteriously puzzling answers.
When asked who was the favourite for Sunday's De Ronde, Sagan said the result would be a "kindersurprise".
Sagan's main rival for the race is Belgium's Greg Van Avermaet - but the Slovak warned that it would be foolish to discount other riders.
He said: "There's a lot of riders, it's not just me and him in the peloton. We have to be careful of everyone, it's not just about two riders."
Although the defending champ might be warding off his favourite role, worldwide online interest between Gent-Wevelgem and De Ronde suggests the fans do not believe in a "kindersurprise".
The defending champion was equally defensive about his preparation for the race, saying: "I slept, ate, drank and rode on the bike. That's it."Tomorrow is a special day. You need luck and to have a good day. It's not about confidence, I am always confident.”
Sagan was the marquee signing for newly formed team Bora-Hansgrohe and there were initial doubts surrounding how quickly the group of riders would be able to gel together.
However, Sagan believes that the team has bonded well and was full of praise for the way in which his domestiques are working for him.
He said: "I think the team is very good and we are not a new group any more. Everybody knows each other and we are working the best that we can.
“In Gent-Wevelgem there was a crash and I was off the road. My brother (Juraj) got me back to the main group and so that was very nice of him. It saved me a lot of energy.”
Sagan has faced criticism this week after video footage emerged of him appearing to 'body check' another rider during the same race.
Asked about the incident, Sagan explained: "In that moment I wanted to go to the front. My lever from my bike was blocked under the saddle of another guy.
"I lost my balance and went to the left side and made the body check but it was not on purpose. I'm sorry if I did something wrong but worse things happen in the group."
Have watched the Sagan body check from two angles. Looks like bike racing to me.— Peter Flax (@Pflax1) March 30, 2017
By Sagan's standards, it's been a torrid couple of weeks.
He was pipped to the line at Milan-San Remo by Michael Kwiatowski before seeming to make a tactical error in Gent-Wevelgem, allowing Van Avermaet to escape to victory.
However, although the last few weeks Sagan has had to settle for the lower steps on the podium, the 27 year-old comes into the race with the same attitude as always.
He said: "Tomorrow is a special day. You need luck and to have a good day. It's not about confidence, I am always confident."
The Sports Gazette has two reporters at De Ronde, follow their coverage on our website, Facebook and Twitter.