A fortnight ago, it looked as if Bernhard Eisel's Classics season was already over. A knee injury picked up in Tirreno-Adriatico threatened to put an end to Eisel's spring but after constant therapy from the Sky's physiotherapist, he was able to start E3. And he paid the team back with third place in the final sprint in Harelbeke.
Like fellow podium placers Tom Boonen and Oscar Freire, Eisel was a constant presence near the head of the race. His primary job was to ensure that teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen was well placed going into the Taaienberg. With that task fulfilled and with a bunch sprint becoming a strong possibility towards the end of the race, Eisel was able to concentrate on his own chances.
"I was cramping in the last 600 meters but with 20 kilometres to go, I put Ian Stannard on the front and I said to the boys 'come on let's not let this one go, let's keep working'," Eisel told Cyclingnews at the finish.
At the time, Sylvain Chavanel (Omega-Pharma QuickStep) and Dmitriy Muravyev (Astana) were clear and racing towards the win. However with Sky and Liquigas chasing, the complexion of the race changed.
"We just had to bring back Chavanel, and then we'd have QuickStep riding with us," Eisel said.
"If I didn't have cramps, then maybe I could have held Boonen's wheel in the sprint but I couldn't get the full power on the pedals but I'm absolutely happy because until Wednesday I didn't know if I'd race today. At one point it looked like my entire Classics season was over."
"I had knee problems but our physio did a fantastic job so I have to thank him and the team. When you have a small engine and you ride like you have a big engine, all the weak points in your body cause too much trouble. Tirreno was too much trouble for me and there was too much climbing and my muscles were getting more and more tired each day. That was pulling on one of my knees."
Eisel moved to Sky in the off-season and along with his expertise in helping Mark Cavendish to success - both in terms of sprints and surviving mountain stages - he has a strong pedigree in the Classics. He first came to the world's attention when riding for FDJ in the 2006 edition of Paris-Roubaix, where he finished 6th, but his biggest moment came in Gent-Wevelgem in 2010, when he won the race from a small group that contained Philippe Gilbert and Sep Vanmarcke.
Last season he finished seventh in both Paris-Roubaix and Gent-Wevelgem and his third place in E3 will give him a definitive boost in confidence. Not that today's result will change Sky's overall dynamic. On Sunday, and despite being a Gent-Wevelgem champion, Eisel will be called upon to work for Cavendish, should the race finish in a sprint. Eisel, modest, is happy to play the team helper, but should Sky need a plan, B he's more than capable of providing one.
"I'm just happy," he told Cyclingnews.
"Today I would have been working for Edvald, and I got him into the Taaienberg in second place, but I knew that if it came back together I would maybe have a chance. I said to Eddy, you focus on Cancellara, and I'll do my own thing. Now I just want to say I'm happy because I worked for him and then I was able to do the finish for myself."
"This weekend couldn't have got offer to a better start so lets go to Gent-Wevelgem and rock things with Cav."