Team Sky director sportif Servais Knaven says that team leader Geraint Thomas has what it takes to match the overwhelming favourites for Sunday's Tour of Flanders, Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard).
Asked if he believed that Thomas could win the 100th edition of the Ronde, Knaven was adamant.
"I'm sure," he said on Friday evening at the team hotel in Kortrijk.
"I'm sure Geraint can follow Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara," Knaven added.
Sky will be playing the numbers game on Sunday, and joining Thomas whose best result came in 2011 when the Welshman finished in 10th place, will be Ian Stannard, Mathew Hayman, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Bernhard Eisel, Salvatore Puccio, Gabriel Rasch and Luke Rowe. Eisel has been ill this week, and while Knaven indicated that he is "going to be fit" there is still uncertainty over the level of the Austrian. As for the rest of the squad, Knaven said "we have other guys who are almost at the same level" as Thomas.
The Tour of Flanders will be just the second time that Sky has taken on this year's classics campaign with a dedicated leader, with Thomas also number one at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad late last month. Since, however, it's been up to the individuals to show their hand, probably going some way to the team earning top-10 results in Milan-San Remo (Stannard, 6th), Dwars door Vlaanderen (Hayman, 3rd, Stannard 9th), E3 Harelbeke (Thomas 4th) and Gent-Wevelgem (Eisel 7th).
"The other races we didn't work with one real captain because we wanted to give everyone a chance," Knaven explained. "They were training all winter for these two, three weeks and we wanted to give everybody different roles in different races so everybody got their own opportunity to show what they can do."
"Geraint was also the captain and he was there [at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad]," Knaven continued. "He showed he was up for it. So now it's for one guy."
Hayman, Stannard and Boasson Hagen will be used specifically to split the race up prior to the final two laps of the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg. It's a tactic which could upset Omega Pharma-Quick-Step with three-time winner and defending champion Tom Boonen saying earlier in the afternoon that he believed that the race would come down to the final lap.
"I think for us it will be really good to have a hard race and not wait until the second time on the Kwaremont," Knaven explained. "At the end if you're the only team who's going to play this tactic then it's not going to work.
"If you have a strong team and I think QuickStep have a similar team to us and BMC as well, I think a few teams have the same idea and they'll chase each other down and then it could make the race - it could be hard.
"It's good for us with the numbers we have, to play with those numbers."
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