Welshman ready for 'one more big hit' on the pavé
Geraint Thomas' spring has run a little more smoothly than his ill-starred classics campaign of twelve months ago, but the Team Sky rider has not been entirely free of bad luck either. He lined up for Scheldeprijs on Wednesday with his chin still bearing the scars from his 8th place finish at the Tour of Flanders, where an early crash had threatened to end his race prematurely.
In the circumstances, Thomas could be satisfied that he at least salvaged a top 10 berth from his afternoon, but considering his form entering the race – he impressed in finishing 3rd at E3 Harelbeke the previous week – he harbours understandable regrets that he was unable to get closer to the Fabian Cancellara-Sep Vanmarcke tandem when they went clear on the Kwaremont.
"I was obviously disappointed with Sunday. I was taking a drink and everyone slammed on. I only had one brake so I hit the kerb and I landed on my face," Thomas told reporters in Antwerp on Wednesday. "I felt terrible the rest of the day so I guess to get 8th was nice after all that but I was hoping for a bit more."
While for Thomas personally and for Sky as a whole, this current Classics period has been more successful than in 2013, he is well aware that such campaigns are judged primarily on the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. The Ronde showing was a step in the right direction after last year, but he is hopeful for more on the pavé this coming Sunday.
"It's a different race really but I think Roubaix suits our team as a whole better. Luke Rowe, Bernie, they probably prefer Roubaix to Flanders. Obviously Brad as well. I think it’s one more big hit, really," Thomas said.
If competing against the likes of Cancellara and Tom Boonen doesn't quite put a glass ceiling on Thomas' ambitions in Flanders and Roubaix, it certainly means that he has to be inventive to try and get the better of them. "There's only a few guys who can win, but like I said with Flanders, Boonen and Cancellara they're just that level above everyone else at the moment, it seems, and it's hard to win any bike race really, let alone those."
Indeed, even more than in Flanders, Paris-Roubaix has tended to fall to the pre-race favourite over the past decade or so, and Cancellara lines up in Compiègne widely tipped to join Tom Boonen and Roger De Vlaeminck on four victories in the Roubaix velodrome. Thomas, however, is drawing encouragement from the exceptions to that law of the strongest, such as Stuart O'Grady’s 2007 victory and Johan Vansummeren's canny win three years ago.
"The favourites are the usual but it's open as well. You saw that when Vansummeren won a few years ago. I think a lot can happen. It's not just the big, big favourites," Thomas said. "Maybe at Flanders you can narrow it down but I think Roubaix is a bit more open."
The question of Sky's leadership could also be a bit more open at Paris-Roubaix than it was in Flanders, where Thomas was the designated number one and Edvald Boasson Hagen his foil. The Welshman has declared himself ready to work for his teammates on Sunday, although Bradley Wiggins told reporters that he felt Thomas himself would lead the team.
"I think there'll be a leader and then maybe one or two others just behind. I'm not sure, we haven't really spoken about it, but I've said all along, I'm happy to work for whoever the leader is," said Thomas.
Wiggins is making his first appearance at Paris-Roubaix in three years and says that he is approaching the race prepared to take the kind of risks he couldn't afford when he had the Tour de France in the back of his mind. Asked if Wiggins had enjoyed his run out over the pavé during Sky's reconnaissance on Tuesday, Thomas smiled. "He seemed to, yeah. He's obviously strong and when he gets going on those things there’s no stopping him."
It remains to be seen whether Wiggins will be designated as team leader, but both he and Thomas are in agreement that Paris-Roubaix is a race that requires a team to prepare for a wider range of scenarios than any other. "With the classics a lot can change quickly so you need to be able to adapt and have a plan B or C – or D," he said. "Anything can happen."
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