Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) may have already scored one big win this spring at Gent-Wevelgem but the Norwegian says his team won't rest on their laurels this Sunday when they line up to race at the Tour of Flanders.
The 2015 Tour of Flanders winner worked a dual-threat offensive along with Fernando Gaviria at the race a week ago, attacking with 40km to race before the pair outwitted the reduced field in the sprint to the line.
It was a big win, and Kristoff's first since the Tour of Oman, but of course the aim is for more.
"It's a little less pressure because we've had a good Classics campaign. Fernando [Gaviria] had second in Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne and I won in Gent-Wevelgem so we have results," Kristoff said.
"There are many teams with none until now, so they have more pressure than us. We have what we have, but we want to perform again. Historically I perform at my best at these races in Flanders, so I hope I can keep that track and be at my best."
Kristoff was speaking at the team's pre-race press conference, held at a curious Wild West-themed hotel in the middle of the Flandrian countryside.
One could perhaps draw a comparison between legendary gunslingers battling it out in some frontier town and the big names going head to head on Sunday's brutal 270km course, but for Kristoff, the race will be far from a head-to-head duel. In fact, this year's race has one of the most open fields in recent memory, with perhaps ten riders or more in with a shot at winning on Sunday.
Kristoff puts one – well, one team – ahead of the rest.
"It's quite open, so for me it's difficult to choose one guy who is the main favourite," he said.
"For example, Zdenek Štybar won some Classics for QuickStep and they have a strong team so maybe they in general are the favourites because they have many guys to play."
The Czech rider, who has won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the E3 BinckBank Classic already this spring, will head up a stacked roster for Belgian team. As well as Štybar, Deceuninck-QuickStep could feasibly see 2017 winner Philippe Gilbert, Bob Jungels and Yves Lampaert take the win in Oudenaarde.
Gaviria's De Ronde debut
UAE Team Emirates could have a potential multi-pronged threat of their own. Riders like Marco Marcato and Sven Erik Bystrøm will be key lieutenants, while Gaviria tackles De Ronde for the first time, having missed out with a broken hand last season.
The Colombian does harbour ambitions for contention in the cobbled classics though, and has raced well so far this spring. His double act with Kristoff at Gent-Wevelgem, which saw Gaviria sneakily act as blocker in the sprint, could well be repeated on Sunday too.
"We have many cards to play – Fernando looked so strong in these races – so hopefully we'll be there trying for a win," he said. "We both have a strong sprint, and if we’re both there then usually I help him if he's feeling good. But he's honest, like in Wevelgem he told me I should go for my own sprint. For sure we will find a solution.
"It's a long race and it’s hard so we will see who is feeling good towards the end. Usually it's a small group going to the finish, so we must be ready for that and maybe we can anticipate and go in the front before the main sprint. Hopefully we can race aggressively and be there for the final."
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