Thor Hushovd expects a return to tradition at the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, with the winner of the 2010 edition to come from a small group of riders.
In 2009, the race was marked by a 29-man group, which came to the race's finish in Ninove, Belgium one minute behind solo race winner Stijn Devolder (Quick Step). On Friday, Hushovd said changes made to the course for 2010 are likely to cause the famed Muur-Kappelmuur to play a greater role in the eventual outcome.
"I think this year the attack will come earlier [than where Devolder attacked last year]," Hushovd told Cyclingnews. "I think it will be a small group because it is so hard, and also with the wind. I can't see it happening that a big group comes to the finish together. Even coming into Geraardsbergen [site of the Muur – ed.], I don't think the [front] group is going to be very big.
"This year the race is obviously harder. It's hard because it's so technical all the time. Whereas before you had a chance to rest, this year it's full-gas, left, right, up, and down on small roads, and it's windy."
Hushovd's assessment of the course is based upon reconnaissance carried out by the Cervélo squad on Thursday. Their review of the second half of the 262-kilometre race was also the longest training ride that Hushovd has completed since he recovered from a stomach virus which played havoc with his 2010 Classics campaign thus far.
"I just didn't feel normal for almost three or four days after, but now I'm almost back to normal and I just need to get back the energy," he said. "I had to take some time of the bike, so, of course, I lost a lot of important training. Especially missing that race [Gent-Wevelgem] on Sunday, that was the biggest loss."
Following the withdrawal of Heinrich Haussler and Andreas Klier from Flanders Tuesday, Hushovd has assumed sole captaincy of his squad for the race. This weekend he will count on the support of experienced Classics riders Jeremy Hunt, Roger Hammond and Brett Lancaster, as well as younger riders Dominique Rollin, Daniel Lloyd and Martin Reimer.
"Now with the focus on only me - instead of myself, Heinrich and Andreas - we just have to race smart and then hopefully be in there as long as possible with a few guys, and then we'll see what we can do in the finale," said Hushovd of the team's modified approach to the race.
With the scrutiny of the Belgian media firmly focused on local riders, Hushovd has, to some extent, slipped under the radar cast over the favourites for the race. Given the disruption to his preparations for Flanders, Hushovd is happy to carry on without the additional burden of expectation.
"For me it's okay when nobody cares too much what I'm doing and doesn't put too much pressure on, so I can do my stuff without too many problems," he said. "But also, with the problems I've had I'm not one of the favourites anyway."