Despite Team Sky already winning two of Belgian’s cobbled one-day races, Luke Rowe insists that the team remain focused ahead of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix as they attempt to end the squad’s Monument hoodoo.
Rowe, 25, has been an integral part of Team Sky’s Classics contingent this season, riding in a vital support role for Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas in wins at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3 Harelbeke, as well as at Kuurne-Brusssel-Kuurne, where the team finished third with Elia Viviani.
“The results speak for themselves. In my eyes there are have been three cobbled classics with Omloop, Kuurne, and E3. We’ve won two and placed third in Kuurne. On a more personal note I’m really happy with how things have started. I was 9th in Omloop and 13th in E3, both pretty solid results so I’m pretty happy,” Rowe told Cyclingnews on the eve of Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem.
After Friday’s win in E3 Harelbeke, in which Thomas soloed clear to take the biggest road racing win of his career, the team allowed for a brief celebration before quickly reminding themselves that the main aims for the spring campaign are still around the corner. With Trek Factory Racing and Etixx-QuickStep both losing their leaders Cancellara and Boonen in the last few weeks, Rowe acknowledges that Team Sky have never had a better chance of breaking their duck.
“When Geraint won there was no direct message that evening but the team just told us to keep it going,” he said. “The morale is so high in the team and if you look elsewhere in the team in other races, we just seem to be on a roll. I think we all just want to keep that going.
“Of course this is the best chance we’ve had to win a Monument in the history of the team. Is Thomas a favourite for Flanders? Quite possibly, but there are still some superstars out there who haven’t done anything yet and will be super motivated to get results, but one thing you can guarantee with us is that we won’t take our foot off the gas.
“A lot of teams might think that they can take their foot off the gas and that anything they get from here is a bonus but we know the big races are still to come. It’s all there for us and the only thing that will mess it up for us is ourselves, and we don’t want to do that.”
While Rowe and the rest of Team Sky will be keen build on their current momentum, it is worth remembering that their current position of strength has taken years to achieve. When the team began in 2010, they were often naïve in one-day races and although they relied on the experience of Juan Antonio Flecha and Matthew Hayman, they lacked depth, both on the road and in the team car, with a number of inexperienced team directors.
In the years since, the likes of Thomas and Stannard have become leaders, but Rowe’s transformation into a fully-fledged Classics rider is also notable. Servais Knaven paid tribute to his improvements on the startline of E3, telling Cyclingnews that the Welshman had progressed significantly, while Stannard echoed those sentiments, pointing to the fact that Team Sky now had an extra player in the finale of races.
“For the team I think it’s just a long time coming. Team Sky started off with big emphasis on GC and we conquered that but the Classics aren’t something we’ve conquered. The riders like Thomas and Stannard are just coming of age now and the difference they’ve made in the last two or three years is massive. They’ve really come on and ahead of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix we’ve come on leaps and bounds and with Bradley coming in we’re perhaps the strongest team out there,” Rowe said.
“When I came on board, I was signed as a neo-pro and meant to work out what I was good at. The Classics have become a massive part of my season but in that first year I didn’t get a look in. Since then I’ve ridden them every year and this year I’ve really stepped up, but a lot of the battle with these races, as everyone knows, is just about knowing the roads, so it takes years to learn them. You don’t see that many riders coming in and doing well in these races at the first attempt like you might do in other races.”
Along with learning his trade as a Classics rider, Rowe pinpoints the 2014 Vuelta a Espana as another major stepping stone in his career. The Cardiff-born rider finished his first Grand Tour last year and those valuable consecutive days have racing have provided the winter platform from which he has kicked on. His weight has dropped around a kilo and half, and in his words he has knuckled down since last summer.
“I think a big part was getting a Grand Tour in my legs. I finished the Vuelta last year and finished it strong, getting better and better as the race went on. That gave me depth for races when it comes to going passed the 260 kilometre barrier.”
Win or lose in the Monuments, Rowe also has the Tour de France on his agenda for 2015 and although spaces will be tight as Chris Froome looks to regain his crown, Rowe is at least gaining the attention of his Team Sky bosses. But until the last cobble of Roubaix is raced Rowe knows there cannot be any distractions.