HTC-Columbia will be aiming for a third-straight victory in the women's Tour of Flanders on Sunday with defending champ Ina-Yoko Teutenberg and Judith Arndt, the winner in 2008. They'll be supported by a strong team, including Noemi Cantele (Italy) and Linda Villumsen (New Zealand).
"To win you need to be fit, have luck on the day, not crash, be there when it matters, have a good team and, of course, have good instinct," Teutenberg told Cyclingnews before Arndt added, "I think we're ready."
Teutenberg won 23 races last year and has spent the last few weeks racing in California, where she's built up a good base of race miles and won the recent Redlands Classic.
Arndt, meanwhile, finished eight in the first women's World Cup event, Trofeo Alfredo Binda, last month. It was her first race since her season opener at the Tour of Qatar in February.
"I feel good that I'm here and I could train well. My season has just started and I've only had one race and that was last weekend and Tour of Qatar, but that was so long ago," said the 2008 champion.
Last year the race was marked by good conditions and little wind, with a group of 18 riders finishing together. This year the conditions favour a different ending, with wind and rain expecting to create a much harder and selective race.
Typically the race has been split on the Muur-Keppelmuur in the town of Geraardsbergen. Last year, race favourite and winner of Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Marianne Vos, launched a move along with Nicole Cooke. Both Arndt and Teutenberg believe that the Dutch woman will be the favourite and that the Muur could be the critical climb once again.
"Last year we were a big bunch but it was warmer and it wasn't windy but the conditions will make a big difference on Sunday. I don't see it ending with a big bunch. As for dangers, you have to look at Vos and Emma Johansson," said Teutenberg.
"We have other riders on the team but we'll do the tactics and see whoever has the best legs and you never know what happens. Maybe the group survives until the end.”
Last year HTC-Columbia were knocked off the top spot in the women's UCI ranking by Cervelo TestTeam, something that both Teutenberg and Arndt are hoping to turn around this season.
"That's the biggest for me, to get the top ranking back," said Arndt.
Teutenberg added: "Normally the more races you win the more UCI points you get so it's a natural progress to go there. We want to win, I want to win and we're going to be number one if we do."