The general consensus is that no one man has the legs to take on Fabian Cancellara at Paris-Roubaix and it seems that it will take a collective effort to deny the Swiss rider a third victory on the hallowed velodrome on Sunday afternoon.
Garmin played their tactical hand to perfection in 2011 by sending Johan Vansummeren up the road while Thor Hushovd locked himself onto Cancellara’s wheel, and Geraint Thomas believes his Sky team will have to be similarly inventive if they are to prevail this time around.
“Fabian’s so strong that I don’t think anyone wants to wait for him to attack and try to hold to his wheel – and well I don’t think anyone can, so I guess it will be an aggressive race,” Thomas said in Compiègne on Saturday afternoon. “If you look at the way the race was when Vansummeren won, I reckon everyone will be thinking of being aggressive like that.
“I guess nobody really wants to take Fabian to the last 20k. but there’s a lot of other bike riders in the race and not just him, so it would definitely be the wrong thing just to race against him.”
In contrast to RadioShack-Leopard, which is built wholly around Cancellara, the Sky team has a more fluid chain of command. Thomas, Ian Stannard and Edvald Boasson Hagen may be the nominal leaders, but Bernhard Eisel and Mat Hayman also have more than a degree of freedom.
“I think the five of us have got a free hand to get stuck in really – Hayman and Bernie as well,” Thomas said.
Sky’s much-vaunted pre-classics training camp at Mount Teide has failed to yield a significant return thus far, although there were mitigating circumstances at the Tour of Flanders, where Boasson Hagen (17th) was the highest finisher. A number of riders were struck by illness ahead of the race, while Thomas’ challenge was compromised by an untimely crash ahead of the finale.
“Everyone is a lot healthier than they were last week as well so we can have a bit of better luck really,” said Thomas, who was sanguine about his Flanders crash. “It was annoying obviously because I’d done everything perfectly up to then but there’s not a lot you can do really when that happens.”
Winner of the junior Paris-Roubaix in 2004 (incidentally, ahead of Stannard), Thomas has only fleetingly demonstrated that youthful promise on the pavé of northern France since, and that was at the 2010 Tour de France, rather than at Paris-Roubaix itself.
That is due in part to Thomas’ track commitments – he missed last year’s classics to train for the London Olympics – and Sunday is only his third tilt at Paris-Roubaix as a professional. An aggressive Tour of Flanders in 2011 hinted at his promise in the classics, but 4th place at both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3 Harelbeke notwithstanding, Thomas has not yet delivered the kind of performance he would have liked this spring.
“I don’t think we expect to win [Paris-Roubaix] but we’re definitely going to try,” Thomas said. “Last weekend was a bit disappointing for us but hopefully we can makes amends for that here. I think we need to be aggressive and everyone’s a lot healthier now compared to last week. We’ll just take the race on and see what we can do.”