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Chris Sutton (Sky) before Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Hard work has been done, says Australian
It all comes down to this. Sky has entered the 2013 cobbled classics with a grand tour mentality and preparation to match, with Geraint Thomas, in particular, spearheading hopes for the Tour of Flanders this Sunday.
Chris 'CJ' Sutton has been there with Thomas for the most part since December 30, as the pair began their pre-season together in the Sutton’s native Australia ahead of the Tour Down Under.
"G's trained really hard over summer," Sutton confirmed. "He came out early and I was training with him early in Adelaide and we really put in the hard work there so it's paying off. We're all going to die for each other and do the best that we can. Who knows? Hopefully we can pull off a big one in Flanders or Roubaix or both."
For Sutton, the build-up to this classics campaign has been part of a long and often painful road back from inflamed vertebrae, an injury that significantly disrupted the better part of six months last season. So bad was his condition that Sutton considered packing in the bike. Back in Australia over summer, recovery and injury maintenance required two weekly sessions with a chiropractor, one with a physiotherapist, and another with massage.
"Every day, twice a day I still have to keep up my rehab exercises so it's not going to go away overnight," Sutton told Cyclingnews.
"I've moved right along, a few of the simple exercises I couldn't even do in August last year and now I can do them with so much ease."
While the bulk of Sky's classics squad travelled to Tenerife in early March for a training camp at altitude in the vein of last year's Tour de France squad, Sutton did not attend, choosing instead to stay at his Girona base in Spain.
"With altitude, for me and what I wanted to do, it wasn't going to be good," the 28-year-old explained. "It's not good for a sprinter to go to altitude really, especially with what I had to work with. I put some good yards in back home in Spain."
All looked to be on track for the Vuelta a España stage winner, but Sutton was disappointed with his performance at Dwars Door Vlaanderen last week where he was among the bulk of a field which failed to finish.
"I just didn't have it," Sutton said. "I tried to do a few things but I didn't have the legs. I don't know what you could put that down to. Maybe I was having a bad day but when it's so cold like that, everyone's in the same boat, but it's hard to get food in and things like that. The cold is a big factor..."
Sutton's teammates have looked ominous with compatriot Mathew Hayman finishing on the podium at Dwars Door Vlaanderen and going on the attack at E3. Ian Stannard had been in the dominant break of the day and finished in 9th position, continuing his run of form from Milan-San Remo, while Thomas finished just inside the top 20.
Welshman Thomas then rode to fourth place in Harelbeke, with Stannard and Hayman also looking in solid form and then on Sunday, Bernhard Eisel finished 7th at Gent-Wevelgem.
Sutton, searching for momentum, was still unsure of whether he'll be on the start line for Flanders on Sunday when speaking with Cyclingnews.
"Maybe not," he said. "I'll probably do Scheldeprijs and then we'll see about Roubaix."
Whether he's there or not, Sutton is tipping big things for Sky, with the squad's preparation showing encouraging signs.
"We couldn't be in a stronger position, the way that G's going and Stannard, Hayman and Bernie - everyone's going so strong," he said. "Whatever job anyone's given they do it to the best of their ability, whoever they need to look after in the race.
"You need a lot of luck on your side as well but you make your own luck."