Geraint Thomas' spring has run a little more smoothly than his ill-starred classics campaign of twelve months ago, but the Team Sky rider has not been entirely free of bad luck either. He lined up for Scheldeprijs on Wednesday with his chin still bearing the scars from his 8th place finish at the Tour of Flanders, where an early crash had threatened to end his race prematurely.
In the circumstances, Thomas could be satisfied that he at least salvaged a top 10 berth from his afternoon, but considering his form entering the race – he impressed in finishing 3rd at E3 Harelbeke the previous week – he harbours understandable regrets that he was unable to get closer to the Fabian Cancellara-Sep Vanmarcke tandem when they went clear on the Kwaremont.
"I was obviously disappointed with Sunday. I was taking a drink and everyone slammed on. I only had one brake so I hit the kerb and I landed on my face," Thomas told reporters in Antwerp on Wednesday. "I felt terrible the rest of the day so I guess to get 8th was nice after all that but I was hoping for a bit more."
While for Thomas personally and for Sky as a whole, this current Classics period has been more successful than in 2013, he is well aware that such campaigns are judged primarily on the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. The Ronde showing was a step in the right direction after last year, but he is hopeful for more on the pavé this coming Sunday.
"It's a different race really but I think Roubaix suits our team as a whole better. Luke Rowe, Bernie, they probably prefer Roubaix to Flanders. Obviously Brad as well. I think it’s one...
The 38-year-old Norwegian announced last October that he would transition from rider to directeur sportif with the squad after the Spring Classics, but admitted to TeamSky.com that he expects Sunday to be an emotional day, but the prospect of a new role brings excitement.
"Of course, it will be emotional after the race on Sunday, and I think if I'd quit cycling straight after retiring, it would have left a big hole in my life, but now I have new goals to motivate and challenge me," he said.
Rasch hasn't hung up his wheels just yet, and is hoping for that magical perfect race to achieve his best ever result in his sixth attempt at Paris-Roubaix.
"I know if everything goes my way, and I am really lucky, that I can be up there at Paris-Roubaix," he said. ""First and foremost, I'll be looking to help our team leaders, but I'd still like to be competitive myself and hang in there for as long as possible. If you've got the form on the day, you'll always have a chance because it's such an unpredictable race.
"I think my strengths as a rider suit this type of race but everything still has to run perfectly. The Classics are the hardest and best races in the sport in my opinion – and Paris-Roubaix is the biggest of them all. It has so much history and so many people turn out to watch it. I love everything about it and I'm pleased I've got the chance to ride it one last time."
Although Rasch won the Norwegian road race title in 2003, he was a relative latecomer to the upper echelons of the sport, making the step up to ProTour level at the age of 32 with the Crédit...
"The team did a real great job. We kept a good classification with our GC leaders and the option to win the stage with me. That was a pity that I didn't, but the real important thing is our team is working at its best," said Sánchez after the stage who, with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), attempted to catch Poels after his attack on the final climb of the day.
"Cadel, Tejay and I are feeling good and tomorrow we can try to look for a stage victory before the final time trial on Saturday."
"It was a long, difficult stage," Poels said. "From kilometre zero until the finish the pace was really fast. But, the team worked really well and they controlled the race. The goal today was to try and move up a bit in the GC and, why not, see if there was a...
Three neo-pros in 24-year-old Vegard Breen, 23-year-old Stig Broeckx and 20-year-old Boris Vallée have all beengiven a starting berth for 'The Hell of the North.' For Broeckx and Vallée, it is the first time either rider will encounter the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix having never ridden the race as juniors or U23.
Marc Sergeant, manager Lotto Belisol, explained the selection that the team made regarding its emphasis on youth."It's not the moment to put specific pressure on the riders in the selection or put forward an exact result. We start exceptionally with the thought that nothing is obliged and everything can happen." Sergeant said.
"That could turn out positively, it offers opportunities to each of our riders. Our men have to join a breakaway. They have to animate the race and be prepared to die. Everybody is keen to ride on Sunday."
For Boris Vallée, the race is about learning for the future. "Because of the circumstances of the past weeks – crashes and injuries – I got my place in the selection. That's a very nice opportunity and I will get to learn for the future. I don't know what to expect. The recon did give me a good feeling.
Dave Brailsford has stepped down from his position as the performance director at British Cycling in a move that will see him devote his full attention to Team Sky.
The Guardian broke the news in the early hours of Friday morning with Brailsford later confirming the situation. He told the BBC, "It's a big step but the right decision for the team and for me. My role at Team Sky will mean we'll still work closely and support the aims of British Cycling."
"I'd like to thank all the great staff who I've worked with, and of course the amazing athletes who ultimately deserve all the credit for their success."
"I have some extraordinary memories - not just from Olympic Games and World Championships but also just day-to-day, seeing cycling go from a fringe activity to a mainstream sport.
"I've always said that, more than any of the medals, the transformation of cycling in Britain is the single thing I'm most proud of having helped achieve."
Brailsford's position at British Cycling had faced scrutiny after the weak showing of British Cycling athletes in February's World Track Championships round in Cali, Colombia.
After the track event, British Cycling head coach Shane Sutton leaped to Brailsford's defence, telling The Times, "Dave has been the greatest leader for GB going back to Clive Woodward and the Rugby World Cup. Dave's not here. The accountability of these performances rest totally with me, not Dave."
"We weren't having this conversation twelve months ago when Dave wasn't there. For people to start pointing the finger at him is unfounded," Sutton said. "I, as head coach, need to accept responsibility for that. I think any criticism of Dave would be unfounded. This guy's been the greatest leader in British sport history. His legacy will go on and on."
Shane Sutton has now become technical director for rider performance ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
On Sunday morning the pro peloton will line up for the start of Paris-Roubaix in Compiegne, France. The best one-day classics specialists will lock horns over 257 kilometres, with 51.1 of those packed with the cobbles that make the race so unique and hard to win.
The clear favourite is once again Fabian Cancellara, who will become the first rider to win back-to-back doubles in Flanders and Roubaix if he crosses the line first. Should he win he will also equal Tom Boonen’s record of four Roubaix wins.
After such a commanding performance from the Trek leader in last weekend’s Flanders it’s easy to overlook some of the potential challengers but they are there and a Cancellara win is a far from a foregone conclusion.
Sep Vanmarcke and Greg Van Avermaet played different race strategies in Flanders and both came close to winning their first monuments, while Taylor Phinney and Edvald Boasson Hagen both have the potential to make a significant impact on the proceedings.
And what of Boonen, who has so far looked a couple of percent off his best form despite Omega Pharma QuickStep’s strength in number during most of the cobbled season? The three-time winner knows how to win Roubaix, his last crown coming 2012, and he can’t be ruled out.
In this exclusive video Cyclingnews picks 10 riders to watch in Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix. Whatever the result, the race promises to be a mouth-watering event. Stay tuned to Cyclingnews on Sunday, with complete start-to-finish coverage from the race.
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