April 03, 2016

OUDENAARDE, Belgium (AP) World champion Peter Sagan won the first big classic race of his career with a solo victory Sunday in the 100th edition of the Tour of Flanders, denying Fabian Cancellara a record-breaking fourth success in the race.

Sagan, who captured the world title last September in Richmond, Virginia, finished ahead of the three-time champion, who was competing in his final Tour of Flanders. Sep Vanmarcke was third.

''It was super hard. From the start until the finish, it was always full gas,'' said Sagan, who celebrated with a wheelie once he crossed the finish line. ''It's hard to work with the other guys because nobody wants to work with me. It's always better to drop everybody.''

After a first acceleration that split the group of favorites in the Oude-Kwaremont, Sagan dropped Vanmarcke in the Paterberg, a brutal cobbled ascent with a maximum gradient of 20 percent. With 13 kilometers (8 miles) left, he then resisted the chase.

Sagan, who endured a mechanical problem 100 kilometers from the finish and had to change both wheels, was so strong in the finale that he increased the gap over Cancellara - a former time trial world champion - in the last five kilometers of the 255-kilometer Monument race.

Sagan paid tribute to Antoine Demoitie and Daan Myngheer, the Belgian riders who died last month during Gent-Wevelgem and the Criterium International. He also dedicated his win to injured teammate Maciej Bodnar.

''You have to think about the two riders who died last week, it was very sad,'' Sagan said. ''I want to dedicate my win to them and to Maciej Bodnar who had a crash in training. I want to wish him well and see him back in the group soon.''

Last year's winner Alexander Kristoff captured the sprint of the peloton to finish fourth.

Despite the good weather, the race was marred by several crashes on the narrow Flemish country roads, with local favorite Greg Van Avermaet forced to abandon with a broken right collarbone.

The Tour of Flanders is part of five high-profile classics called the Monument that also includes Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Giro di Lombardia.

Sagan, who had his first victory in the world champion's rainbow jersey last month at the Gent-Wevelgem race, will be among the favorites of Paris-Roubaix next weekend.

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