Team Sky senior directeur sportif Scott Sunderland has predicted that Saturday's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad will be decided during a 20km section of the race that is packed with steep climbs and cobbles.
Sunderland rode the traditional Belgian season opener numerous times as a professional and still lives in Belgium. He drove the course and took detailed race notes during the week. With bad weather forecast in Belgium, Sunderland reckons the race will be a tough start to the Belgian season.
"This is the first race of the season on cobbles, the first race in crap weather, the first Flandrian race. It's a whole different ball game to what the riders have been racing in do so far this season. It's going to be pretty grim," Sunderland told Cyclingnews.
"I know the route from racing and living in Belgium, but I wanted to se what damage the winter had caused. The roads have been frozen and so there are some new pot holes out there."
"The race will be decided in the 20km section between 60km and 40km. There are three climbs together starting with the Taaienberg and then three sections of pave. That part of the race is super complex, super hard and super important. Whoever emerges from that will go on to fight for the win."
Boasson Hagen leads Team Sky
The Team Sky riders selected for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad arrived on Belgium on Thursday and will study the important final section of the race today.
Edvald Boasson Hagen will lead a team that also includes Juan Antonio Flecha, Michael Barry, Matt Hayman, Russell Downing, Ian Stannard, CJ Sutton, and Davide Vigano.
Boasson Hagen is considered a favourite for the race but Sunderland insisted that Team Sky would not fall into the trap of pushing for early season results and risk jeopardising more important races in April.
"We're not going to be intimidated and think we've got to get early results just because we're a new team," Sunderland told Cyclingnews.
"If we start to do that, to stretch the balloon, it could lead to problems. We've got the experience to know that you've got to plan and prepare for performance and that's what we're doing. This weekend is only another step in being at our best for the big spring classics in April."
Sunderland predicted an open and aggressive race but suggested that Boasson Hagen could win.
"Anything could happen out there because riders still aren't at their best and it's such a testing finale. A team's experience will be important but so will be rider's fitness. The winner will have a combination of both."