Dylan Van Baarle's first year at Team Sky could be split into two discernable halves. In the first months, the talented Dutch rider struggled with his new environment after a late switch from Slipstream Sports. He picked up top-20 rides at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, but never truly hit the high notes or developed as quickly as many thought he would.
A TTT triumph at the Critérium du Dauphiné, followed by a fine win in the national time trial championships, and then fifth overall at the BinckBank Tour, put a slightly better gloss on 2018, but the 26-year-old is determined to kick on this year.
A change of race programme and a new coach are two of the major alterations that have been made over the winter. For the first time in his career, Van Baarle has started his season at the Tour Down Under, while the rest of his spring will include the Volta ao Algarve, Opening Weekend, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan San Remo and the cobbled Classics.
"I've been here for two weeks and I'm enjoying it. This is my first time here so we'll see if it's the best preparation for the Classics, but I stopped early last year so it's good to get going here," he told Cyclingnews in Australia, referring to the fractured pelvis that forced him out of last year's Vuelta a España on stage 14 – two days after he had finished second to Alexandre Geniez.
"I expected more from the Classics, but then everything went well [after that]. I won the TT championships, which I was proud of, and then I had a good BinckBank. If you had to sum it up, I'd say that I had two sides to the season. It's hard to put my finger on what happened in the Classics. It was a change for me and I had to get used to everything. The bike was different, the tyres, and how the team operate. There are so many different people. It meant I wasn't as good as I wanted to be, but I hope to find my way. I changed coach, too. But now I feel ready to race."
Van Baarle has changed coaches repeatedly over the last three years. At Slipstream he was tutored by Jonathan Vaughters, while his first season at Team Sky saw Dario Cioni take up the responsibility. This season has sparked another change, with Tim Kerrison taking over.
"He knows a lot. He's won the Tour de France with Chris Froome and Geraint [Thomas]. It's really an honour to work with him. I hope that he can bring me to the next level, and where I want to be."
Team Sky have struggled in the cobbled Classics in comparison to their unrelenting domination of Grand Tours. There are a number of reasons, but Van Baarle is confident that the British team have the right personnel in place. In Van Baarle, Gianni Moscon, Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard, and possibly Geraint Thomas and Michal Kwiatkowski, the team has a solid core, if not one standout leader.
"We have to approach the Classics like Quick-Step always do," he says.
"There's not one real leader, but four or five guys who fight for each other. I think that worked well with Quick-Step and I don't see why it can't work with us. I don't think we need to decide on a leader. We just need to make sure that everyone is on the same page. If someone wins a semi-Classic, then things will change, but for now we have four or five riders who can win the race and we need to fight for each other.
"The Classics are always hard to predict," he continued. "If it's a climb, then it's down to power to weight. In the Classics you have to be at the front at every corner, and that makes the Classics so different. They're harder to predict."