Juan Antonio Flecha received a pat on the back from senior Team Sky director sportif Scott Sunderland at the end of E3 Prijs Vlaanderen – Harelbeke, on Saturday. The Spaniard finished third on the day after being beaten by Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) and Tom Boonen (Quick Step).
Flecha was one of the strongest riders in the race. He matched Boonen’s effort on the Taaienberg and, along with Cancellara, was the only rider to catch the Belgian on the descent of the Paterberg with 40 kilometres to go. The three stayed away until the finish, and although Flecha was unable to beat his breakaway companions, he considered today to be a good day at the office.
“I’m happy with my performance,” he said at the finish as a sognieur carried away his bike. “You always expect more but you have to be happy one week before Flanders with that kind of form. I was with the best riders today.”
Coming into the final few kilometres all three riders looked strong but with Flecha being the weakest sprinter, observers waited in anticipation for his attack. However it was Cancellara who went first, staying clear to take the win by three seconds.
“I knew we’d stay away in the last 15 kilometres and when we had 40 seconds,” said Flecha. “But Fabian was the first one to try and he stayed away.”
As his star pupil boarded the team bus Sunderland gave his assessment on how the race unfolded. “The boys did a great job,” he said, clearly enjoying his role and the success the team are achieving on the road. “We had Chris Sutton in the front and when he came back he did a big pull for Flecha and the guys worked really well together. We’ll be lining up with the same team tomorrow.”
“You had head wind there so there was no time to muck around,” he added. “Flecha pulled through his turn and when he did Boonen followed and it opened the door for Cancellara. He goes through corners so fast he got 10 lengths right there. You can’t give a guy like Cancellara that gap.”
Flecha’s form bodes well for the upcoming races and with Flanders just over a week away the Spaniard is a hot favourite along with Boonen and Cancellara. “It’s not the first time you’re going to see them at the end of a race in the next few weeks,” added Sunderland.
However one rider that didn’t make the lead group today was Katusha’s Filippo Pozzato. The Italian wasn’t able to latch onto the leaders on the Paterberg but he put on a brave display, almost bringing them back single-handedly before claiming fourth.
Sunderland was quick to point out the Italian’s form and the threat he posses for the rest of the Classics. “Maybe he got caught behind but from what I‘ve seen today he should have been at the front today. It’s going to be interesting next week.”
As for Flecha: “He’s where he needs to be so we know the condition is there. It’s very positive coming into the next races,” said Sunderland.