Dave Tanner is ready for his fourth successive Ardennes campaign and first with IAM Cycling after an interrupted early-season. Despite starting the mid-week Brabantse Pijl Ardennes warm up race unsure of from and condition following a crash at Milan-San Remo, Tanner put in an aggressive showing as featured in the two-man break with eventual winner Ben Hermans (BMC).
The Australian, who moved to the Swiss WorldTour team at the end of last year, explained to Cyclingnews that the sensations from 1.HC race have been a much needed confidence boost ahead of his favourite race of the year.
"For Brabantse Pijl my role was to move with the attacks in the final, it's a race and parcours that's perfect for me so I was motivated, but unsure of my condition," Tanner said, whose previous race was the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco. "I'd been in a bit of a hole since crashing out of Milan-San Remo and had struggled for a few weeks, but I surprised myself.
"I attacked with 40km to go but no one followed so after a few km on my own I sat up, on the next climb is when Hermans and myself got our gap," he said of Brabantse Pijl. "It wasn't until four or so kilometres to go that it was clear we had a chance but just after that he dropped me!"
Having made his debut with the team at the Australian nationals, helping Heinrich Haussler claim the green and gold national jersey, Tanner then rode the Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race with Tour du Haut Var his first European race of the season with results hard to come by.
Having aimed to impress his new team with his early-season results, Tanner explained his San Remo crash quickly halted those ambitions, compounded by his brief apperance at the Classica Corsica a few days later and then the Critérium International, retroactively self-diagnosing resting not racing.
"The preparation has been ok, I wanted to be good for the Nationals in January and my condition was good their but I couldn't put anything together in January," he said. "I just had three good race days in February, which was perfect. My confidence grew after a good ride in Lugano and towards the end of Paris-Nice too.
"Before San Remo everything was going well, but after my crash there I really struggled for two-three weeks. I think the mistake was going to Corsica when I needed a bit of time to let the body recover. After the race [Brabantse Pijl] I have more confidence in myself but still not 100% yet. Hopefully the hit out in Brabantse Pijl will lift me a bit."
In his previous appearances at the Ardennes, Tanner has found himself riding in support role for former Dutch teammates such as Bauke Mollema and Tom-Jelte Slagter with 52nd at Amstel Gold Race in 2013 his best result so far. In 2015, that trend continues at IAM Cycling for the 30-year-old, explaining he'd rather be helping the team to a top result than aiming for an inconsequential 18th place for example.
"This year I think will be like most years here for me," he said of his role for the week of racing ahead. "I will need to be active and moving in the last 50-60 km, and looking after our leader whoever that might be! Each year you gather experience in these races, which is always important. But to be honest, it makes more sense for me to be apart of a big team result than doing my own thing and trying for a top-20 or something!
With Amstel his "favourite race of the year", Tanner might just find himself inspired, as he did at Brabantse Pijl, to try something special.
"You never know though, like yesterday some times things can pan out different than the normal script."