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Geraint Thomas (Sky) is a contender for classics glory in 2013.
Knaven pleased with Welshman's fourth place finish
Geraint Thomas narrowly missed out on a podium finish at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday but Sky directeur sportif Servais Knaven declared himself pleased with the Welshman's showing at one of the key test sites for those with aspirations of higher honours later in the spring.
Indeed, Sky's performances at the opening weekend of the Belgian season seem all the more significant - at least to the outside observer - given that its Classics squad will forgo both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico in order to prepare for the monuments with a training camp in Tenerife.
Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne are thus the final competitive outings for Thomas, Bernhard Eisel and Edvald Boasson Hagen before they line up at Milan-San Remo in three weeks' time, and the men in black had a solid start their weekend with Thomas' fourth place.
"They were riding good and there at the right moment when the race started," Knaven said in Sint-Pietersplein after the finish. "G [Thomas] was strong but Paolini and Vandenbergh were very strong too. At the end, though, we could see that G was still good. He chased down Chavanel and almost took the sprint, so he was going really well. We also had almost the whole team in the first chasing group so I think everyone is riding well.
"We had our right guy in the front group: our leader was in the breakaway. Other teams didn't have their leader there. Looking at Blanco, they did a really good race but they didn't have Boom or Vanmarcke up there, so I think our guys did a good job."
A crash after 70 kilometres threatened to derail Thomas' race but he found his way back up to the front and then latched onto what proved to be the winning move over the top of the Varent. "I don't know how it happened exactly," Knaven said. "He was dizzy for a moment and we thought the race was over, but then the next thing we saw was that he was attacking."
Thomas' commitment to the British Olympic track team last year meant that he was denied the opportunity to build on his encouraging 2011 spring campaign, when he finished 10th in the Tour of Flanders and second at Dwars Door Vlaanderen. Even with that gap in his cobbled curriculum vitae, however, Knaven believes that the 26-year-old can win De Ronde this year, pointing to Saturday afternoon's performance as exhibit A.
"He can, I'm sure. We're all sure about it," Knaven said. "You see he's there today, and he knows the course better and it will help him to know what climbs and cobbles are coming. I saw him on the bus and he was not totally empty. You could see in the final he was still fresh and he could probably ride another hour. And Flanders is an hour longer."
As for what will happen behind away from the cameras at the Tenerife training camp, Knaven was keeping his cards close to his chest, although he seemed amused by the mystique that has built up around Tim Kerrison's designs for Sky's approach to the classics.
"It's not top secret but it's not for me to talk about training, I'm not a trainer," Knaven said. "It's not like they'll do something totally different, maybe just certain efforts. But in the end, you all have to ride the bike and push the pedals, and at certain moments in training you have to go as hard as possible. It's not like we've reinvented the wheel."