With his strongest start to the season since his much-hyped move to Team Sky back in 2010, there has been a nagging sense that this time, it might all be different for Edvald Boasson Hagen. It still might be, as the 28-year-old takes aim at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday in search of that elusive major Classics title that his talents are universally considered to justify.
The Norwegian won Gent-Wevelgem as a 21-year-old at Highroad, but, despite the comparisons with Eddy Merckx, his Classics performances have been underwhelming ever since, to the extent that he became more of a support rider towards the end of his Team Sky tenure.
After winning the Tour of Britain towards the end of last season, there was a sense that Boasson Hagen was finally finding his feet at his new team, Dimension Data – then MTN-Qhubeka – and when that promise spilled over into 2016, with wins in Qatar and Oman, excitement grew ahead of the spring.
“The pressure happens every year. But I make my own pressure. I try to do my best all the time,” Boasson Hagen tells Cyclingnews at the Roubaix velodrome as Dimension Data complete their recon ride ahead of Sunday.
His Classics campaign has been disrupted by illness that caused him to miss E3 Harelbeke but he doesn’t think it has been a real setback and is confident that strong start to the season can bear fruit on Sunday.
“I was pretty good at Flanders; I didn’t get a good result but I was feeling quite OK. I think I’m better now, though,” he said. "I felt I was doing really well at the start of the season, and also the end of last year, so I feel I’m continuing that, and I think there’s more to come.”
Rolf Aldag, Dimension Data’s head of performance, was in the team car behind Boasson Hagen as the riders rode all the way from Denain to the Roubaix velodrome, taking in no fewer than 19 sectors of pavé. Speaking to Cyclingnews as the riders showered and ate, Aldag underlined Boasson Hagen’s enormous talent, but reasoned that the precociousness of it has, in a perverse way, held him back.
“He’s treated like he already won three times Flanders and three times Roubaix,” said the German.
“People mark him, they think, 'we cannot give him 20 seconds – we might not get him back. We don’t want to bring him to the sprint – he’s fast. That’s his problem; he never has the element of surprise. He can never surprise people because his competitors will always see him as a big threat.
“That’s always been his problem; he’s always judged on his talent, not necessarily on his results.”
Aldag points to Boasson Hagen’s display at Milan-San Remo as proof of the Norwegian’s drive to make things happen for himself, and suggested he would have to be similarly willing to shake things up on Sunday. Boasson Hagen is Dimension Data’s protected rider, but there is also excitement in the camp about what Mark Cavendish can achieve, and tactical decisions, as is always the case with unpredictable races such as Roubaix, must be taken out on the road.
“You have to remember he bravely tried to win Milan-San Remo, attacking instead of waiting for the sprint and ending up wherever,” said Aldag.
“He has clearly showed his potential and he deserves our full support. It’s a super unpredictable race and that’s what we have to look into – who else can go into groups, what would be a good situation for us to get into the final – who could do it.”
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