As Edvald Boasson Hagen's early season purple patch continues at the Tour of Oman, thoughts naturally turn to the Spring Classics, where, victory at Gent-Wevelgem in 2009 aside, the Norwegian's performances over the years have never lived up to the considerable sum of his parts.
A dominant winner of the individual time trial at the Tour of Qatar last week, Boasson Hagen gave a further demonstration of his range in Oman by finishing off his Dimension Data team's work in the finale at Quriyat on Wednesday with a powerful uphill sprint that gave him stage honours and the overall lead.
Speaking to reporters after retaining the red jersey on stage 3, which was won by his fellow countryman and former Maxkbo-Bianchi teammate Alexander Kristoff, Boasson was unsure of his precise margin for improvement between now and late March.
"I don't know, I can't give a percentage on my form, but it feels good now and afterwards it will get better I hope," Boasson Hagen said.
Boasson Hagen's record in the Monument Classics, in particular, has been decidedly nondescript for a rider of his abilities. Despite entering each spring campaign during his five-year spell at Team Sky with high hopes and as one of the team leaders, his lone first top 10 finish in a Monument would only come last year, in his first season at MTN-Qhubeka (now Dimension Data).
"I wasn't so far off in San Remo, I was in the main group last year," Boasson Hagen said when asked if he struggled to cope with the sheer length of the Monuments. "And at the Worlds [in Valkenburg in 2012, when he finished second behind Philippe Gilbert – ed.], I was not so far away, so long distances are hopefully not a problem."
As Boasson Hagen's time at Sky drew on, he found himself increasingly pressed into the service of others on the biggest occasions. There was, rightly or wrongly, a sense that his talents were stifled by Sky's approach, much like a creative winger being shoehorned into a more prosaic, defensive role on a football team.
It remains to be seen whether that theory carries water, given that Boasson Hagen's 2015 spring campaign was cut short by the broken collarbone he sustained in a crash at Gent-Wevelgem. There were sure signs of a change in his fortunes at the Tour of Britain last year, however, and the apparent renaissance has continued apace thus far in 2016.
"I don't know. I had some injuries also before but I hope this year I can manage not to have that problem," Boasson Hagen said when asked what he has been lacking in the classics up to this point.
The move away from Sky has seen an alteration to his training regimen, with Boasson Hagen linking up again with his old trainer Frederik Mohn last season, though he said that the off-season just past was not much different to the winter of 2014-15.
"I was getting quite good towards the end of the season and I just carried on doing strengthening work and quite a lot of what I'd also done last year," Boasson Hagen said, adding that reports of his increased body mass since leaving Sky had been mildly overstated.
"It's not five kilos, but I have been working a bit in the gym to try to get a bit more explosiveness back and hopefully that works well for me."
While Boasson Hagen's best Monument result has come at Milan-San Remo, the race he covets above all others is Paris-Roubaix, where his best placing was a low-key 21st in his final season at Sky, when he formed part of a trident with Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins.
"Paris-Roubaix is the one I really want to win but all the Classics are really big and they come one after the other, so it's good to have good form for that period, and just try to do a good race each time," he said.
"I've never done really well in Roubaix but it's still the one I'd like to do well in, but we'll see. I haven't reconned it this year but I've done it a few times now and I know all the cobblestone sections."
At the Tour of Oman, meanwhile, Boasson Hagen has a pragmatic view on his chances of defending his slender overall lead on the slopes of Green Mountain on stage 4, with the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Romain Bardet and Domenico Pozzovivo all poised with intent just seconds behind.
"Today was a good day. The team managed to control things really well and I managed to stay out of trouble," he said. "For Green Mountain it's a different day and different terrain. I don't expect to keep the jersey but I'll try to fight."
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