By Daniel Benson in Gent, Belgium
Chris Sutton continues his Classics campaign with Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix in the next few days, after his debut Tour of Flanders ride last weekend. The tough Australian admitted the former is a race he can win, and said he may know the key to beating the man currently regarded as the world's best sprinter – Columbia-Highroad's Mark Cavendish.
The Garmin-Slipstream rider worked tirelessly for Martijn Maaskant at Flanders and will repeat the trick at Paris Roubaix, but not before testing his mettle in Gent-Wevelgem. "I can win Gent-Wevelgem, whether it's tomorrow or in the next 10 years, it's a race that suits me with the short cobbled climbs and the sprint finish," said the former Cofidis rider.
"There will be myself and Julian Dean and we'll talk during the race, so whoever is stronger on the day will get the support of the other rider," he added.
Sutton has been an important factor in Garmin's Spring Classics campaign this year. The 24-year-old rode Omloop Het Nieuwsblad earlier in the Spring, and despite a serious crash, recovered to find form for Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of Flanders, where he placed 107th. Sutton explained that having a settled roster for a block of races has given the team more belief and solidity than in 2008.
"This is the longest time we've spent together as a unit. Last year we chopped and changed more and I only came in for Paris-Roubaix, but this year we've done all the Classics together and the results have flowed," said Sutton. "Just look at what we did with Tyler Farrar at Tirreno-Adriatico. We proved that Cavendish is beatable and not many teams have been able to do that. Don't forget, all the sprinters were at that race too. We've come along in leaps and bounds."
Sutton and his teammates will be hoping that lightening strikes twice for them in Gent-Wevelgem, where they'll work for both Sutton and the more experienced Julian Dean, a rider who has helped Sutton develop. "He [Julian] doesn't get the credit he deserves but he's given me so much knowledge since I've been on the team; whether he's sprinting or acting as a lead-out man, he's the best teammate I could have," he said. "The knowledge he's given me has brought me up so many level."
When asked what it takes to beat a rider like Cavendish, Sutton wasn't ready to give anything away: "He is beatable, I know how but I'm not telling anyone just yet. The team has plans and we'll be trying different stuff. Of course he's the best sprinter, but I watch videos of all my opponents and know he has a weakness. He'll probably say he doesn't have one but I know he does."
At Roubaix the team will focus on supporting Maaskant as he looks to build and improve on his fourth-placed finish in 2008. The relaxed Dutchman finished fourth in Flanders last weekend and Sutton has spent time trying to build his friend's confidence. "I was telling him that he's a favourite for a race, and he was like, 'I don't think'," said Sutton.
"We had a team meeting and we were saying 'you're a favourite Martijn, you really are.' He doesn't put a lot of pressure on himself." Sutton will be a key man in Maaskant's camp, with the responsibility of looking after him for as long as possible in the race. It's a similar role to last year, when the Australian shepherded Maaskant for most of the race.
Stay tuned after Roubaix for a full interview with Chris Sutton and click here to talk about Gent-Wevelgem in the Cyclingnews forum.