Team Sky's Spaniard aiming for the win on Sunday
Juan Antonia Flecha will be Sky's undisputed leader in tomorrow's Tour of Flanders after Edvald Boasson Hagen pulled out through injury earlier in the week.
The Spaniard heads into the race with good form after finishing third in last week's E3 Prijs, behind Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) and Tom Boonen (Quick Step). Tomorrow he'll compete against both riders again, as well as their teammates Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) and Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank).
Despite both Quick Step and Saxo Bank having strong teams, Flecha believes that each team offer different threats. According to Flecha, Quick Step have two cards to play, but Saxo Bank has a solo leader in Fabian Cancellara. Matti Breschel has had a strong spring but the Spaniard believes that the Danish team are bluffing when they claim to have two leaders.
"They have to. I'm sure Fabian wants to win at all costs. I'm not saying he's not a team player - of course he is - but I know Fabian too and I know when he wants something and that's the way it's going to be tomorrow," said Flecha.
"It's a nice combination to have with both of them though. They've been racing together many years so they know each other a lot. I can't say but I think Fabian will try tomorrow. They're in the same team and Breschel is one of my favourites but if he wins it's because it's a tactical thing and he goes in a move and no one is looking for him. It's not like in Wevelgem where Fabian let him go and win. That's not going to happen, for sure."
Tom Boonen and Stijn Devolder have both won the race twice but Flecha thinks that the Belgian team have a different make-up to Saxo Bank.
"It's different. You don't see Boonen and Devolder working together during the season and you only see Devolder on fire for one or two weekends in a season. With Breschel and Fabian it's different. You see them doing more."
Devolder has been written off by many in the last few weeks, showing little. However few riders, including Flecha, will be so complacent come the start in Bruges tomorrow. Although Flecha thinks it will be hard for Devolder to win a third straight title, he does see him as a danger.
"It will be a surprise if he wins, but you can't say it won't happen when he's won two in a row. It's true that the other times he won he showed that he had form earlier in the year. He will be ready and he will be there, but he may not be there mentally and that's hard coming into the weekend. He is still a rider who can do special things but this year will be much, much harder for him to do that."
Flecha comes into the race with good form, having already won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February and finished third in E3 Prijs Vlaanderen - Harelbeke last weekend. One rider that perhaps knows Flecha more than anyone else is Mat Hayman, who rode with the Spaniard for several years at Rabobank, before the two of them were signed by Sky.
The Australian, who has worked for riders like Rolf Sorensen, Michael Boogerd, Erik Dekker, Oscar Freire and Karsten Kroon, believes that although Flecha has more love for Roubaix, Flanders is a race that suits him more.
"I think Flecha has a really good chance and as much as he loves Roubaix I think Flanders is more suited to him. He loves Roubaix more though," he said.
"His climbing ability makes a difference and in Roubaix it's harder to come in solo, but his ability means he can go up the cobbled climbs. But he fell in love with Roubaix and was more willing to work for guys at Rabobank in Flanders because he was thinking more of Roubaix. If Flanders is a hard race it will suit him better. Full stop."
Flecha was cautious when asked if Hayman's assessment was correct. "I don't like to say one better than the other, there are two chances. First let's go well tomorrow. I don think I can make a difference on the climbs, but after is where it shows because maybe I'm not making as much effort on them as some of the others."
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