Team Sky's successful Classics campaign continued at E3 Harelbeke, with Geraint Thomas taking third place after an aggressive performance. However the team were left with some concerns after Ian Stannard was forced to abandon following a tumble on the cobbles. On balance, though, the British outfit was pretty happy with its performance.
"The team was pretty strong with Bernie Eisel, Edvald [Boasson Hagen] and G [Geraint Thomas]. Result-wise I think that we can be happy," Team Sky directeur sportif Servais Knaven told Cyclingnews at the finish.
"I think with losing Ian it was a pity, but still we were strong. I think that everybody is on a really good level. Especially G, in his first race in Belgium this year. After his crash I think that he is back on the level where he was in Paris-Nice. That's looking really good."
Thomas made the first crucial split in the peloton on the Oude Kwaremont. His form was doubtful ahead of the race and the team had no concrete plans for him to be aggressive.
"Those things you cannot plan. It's all about whether you have the legs or not. Apparently he had really good legs, so that is the best way to race for him and just go for it on the climbs. I think he was probably the strongest."
Stannard was to be one of the team's leaders for the race. He was looking strong going into the race, after a good showing at Dwars door Vlaanderen two days prior. He had been hoping to add to his victory in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad but got taken down in a multiple rider pile-up. Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEdge) was taken to hospital after a nasty fall, which also caught out Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), leaving the Belgian with an injured thumb.
Race winner Peter Sagan and Thomas were also involved in falls during the day. "I think almost the whole team crashed today," Knaven pointed out after several pile-ups hit the peloton.
Stannard was caught up in two crashes. He was quick to his feet after the first but spent much longer on the ground the second time around. He managed to climb back on his bike but was in obvious pain and he eventually decided to call it a day.
"He was not good, because he took a while to get back on the bike and then he was complaining that he fell on his head," explained Knaven. I don't know how he is. Hopefully he can start on Sunday."
Stannard was later given the all clear by the team's doctor and should be able to race on Sunday. Team Sky is not expected to make any changes to it's line-up for Sunday's Gent-Wevelgem.
Edvald Boasson Hagen is a past winner of the event, taking victory in 2009, and will be the team's best bet for success again. However Team Sky is not going to wait for the pure sprinters to have their turn and will look to break things up before the finish.
"My feeling says that it's going to be a big group at the finish. Like a bunch sprint. We will see how everybody feels and we will try something on the hills, because that's why the hills are there in the race," Knaven said.