If ever there was ever an example of experience proving its value in the professional peloton, it’s been in this year’s spring classics season, writes Al Hinds.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

Having won on his fourth attempt at Amstel Gold, Enrico Gasparotto, was quick to pay tribute to the road behind him at the finish. He'd been aiming to win the Classic since the first time he'd taken part in the Dutch race in 2009, but it'd taken the lessons learnt from a near-miss in 2010, a poor performance in 2011, and a hefty period of reflection to earn himself the win atop the Cauberg.

A future contender, Simon Clarke who rode Amstel for the first time on Sunday summed it up best when he talked to Cycling Central after the 260.4 km classic.You can't turn up at a WorldTour race for the first time expecting to win. You probably can't even expect a result the second or third time. These races are all defined by the small differences, the little subconscious things you pick up in the first 200 km of racing that you can really only get by being there, under race conditions.Clarke's comments and Gasparotto's rewarded persistence reflect a prevailing wisdom in cycling that suggests that age and experience are the key ingredients to performances at the top level.

There are of course the special cases, not least Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert, but it's worth noting that that trio started their professional careers younger than most and only began winning the 'big races' several seasons in.

Those were seasons in which Boonen and Cancellara collected a treasure trove of accumulated knowledge of the roads in Belgium in France, furthered their understanding of just how these races play out, and honed and tweaked their bodies for optimum performance.

Cue Peter Sagan.

At 22 years of age, the Slovak is one absurdly talented bike rider and a guy who is going to win one hell of a lot of races in his career. He's been one of the standout riders of this year's classics season, further flagging the huge future that awaits him.

But as a rider Sagan is still underdone. What's held Sagan back from converting one of his top-5s into a win this year, has been varying degrees of hot-headedness, frustration and a lack of patience; all symptoms of inexperience.

In Gent-Wevelgem, Sagan showed impatience by following and working with Fabian Cancellara after the Swiss attacked over the Kemmelberg with some 30 kilometres to go.

Why join an attack when you're regarded as one of the punchiest riders in the peloton? Sure, Sagan showed just how dynamic he can be by pushing the move with Cancellara, but with a healthy chase behind and race favourite Boonen surrounded by teammates, the move wreaked of brashness, wasted energy for what was an inevitable sprint.

"I was trying to ride with Cancellara, but success all comes with time," Sagan admitted of his miss-step. "For now, it's still good [to make errors], I'm still learning."

However a week later at the Tour of Flanders it appeared the lessons of Gent-Wevelgem had hardly been learned. Boonen by this point had established himself as the man to beat, so it seemed logical that Sagan had only to shadow the Belgian and wait for the critical move.

A moment of madness ensued. Sagan decided that he was going to make the race, and surged away on the Paterberg with Boonen fixed to his wheel. Again things came back together, with Sagan showing exhaustion for his efforts.

When the race-winning move did go, Sagan was caught behind a crash involving Johan Vansummeren that caused a split in the chase, but what was the Slovak doing anywhere but on Boonen's wheel?

"I knew it was over at that point, because nobody was pulling to catch [Pozzato, Boonen and Ballan], we weren't going at a very even pace," said Sagan.

And though the excitement at Amstel Gold all played out in the final kilometre on the Cauberg, a similar Sagan presented himself there as well. He seemed impatient to come off eventual winner Enrico Gasparotto's wheel, and ultimately arrived spent, 50 metres before the finish line.



"Had I been more patient I would have won," Sagan said after finishing third. "I race to win and I'm always sorry to miss out by only a few meters.I saw Gilbert go and I did not think twice. With hindsight I should have had waited a little longer, but after 250 km it's sometimes hard to think clearly.Not that you can blame the Slovak champion, he is only 22, and lessons in cycling are only ever learned through the failures that precede them.

Of course I'm not saying Sagan isn't developing, far from it. To put this year's results in context, in 2011 Sagan was 49th in Gent-Wevelgem, DNF'd the Tour of Flanders and was 98th in Amstel Gold.

Sagan has come a long way this year, but it just shows, you can't cut corners. Success comes with time and experience.

The Slovak's classics season is now over, but watch out for him in 2013, he's on the brink.