Largely anonymous during the cobbled Classics in 2012, the fortunes of Orica GreenEdge are already looking up with at least one more card to play, Jens Keukeleire, along with lead rider, Sebastian Langeveld.
The latter rode to fifth place at E3 Harelbeke after having ridden in the front group of riders that were off the back of the efforts of eventual winner Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard). It was exactly the performance that the Australian team had been wanting from their designated cobbled Classics man.
"Last year in Flanders, I was right on time - in good condition but I didn't really have the confidence that the condition was there," Langeveld told Cyclingnews. "With the result of today, we can go with trust and confidence that we can do something in the race next week."
Langeveld was in elite company in the 11-rider move that went with Cancellara on the Taaienberg, Tom Boonen, Zdenek Stybar and Stijn Vandenberg (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step), Lars Boom and Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco), Mathew Hayman and Edvald Boasson Hagan (Sky), Daniel Oss (BMC) and Vincent Jerome (Europcar).
The Dutchman was left to then fight it out for the minor placings once Cancellara rode away again on the Paterberg, caught between a rock and a hard place of trying to go with the Swiss specialist, but not wanting to drag Peter Sagan to a sprint finish given he'd already fought his way back into contention.
"QuickStep was running with three guys and with the first guys like Oss and Sagan, Geraint Thomas, it's pretty hard. What can you do? I'm pretty happy with fifth place," Langeveld said.
At Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen among a relatively inexperienced team line-up for Orica GreenEdge, Keukeleire stood out delivering a seventh place finishing in the lead group of riders behind winner, Oscar Gatto (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia). His sprint hindered by eventual runner-up Borut Bozic (Astana Pro Team), Keukeleire was unlucky not have finished in an even better position. It was a performance that bettered his 10th place in 2012, but the 24-year-old Belgian told Cyclingnews that he felt he was on form.
"I knew I was already good so it was nice to see that end result on Wednesday," he told Cyclingnews before the start of E3 Harelbeke. "I was really looking forward to these races so it's good."
Having played a patient waiting game, Keukeleire made his move to the lead group of riders on the Halstraat, and despite a determined chase, the final selection had been made. In his first Classics experience Leigh Howard, Tomas Vaitkus and Mitch Docker all finished the race in the bitterly cold and wet conditions, safe in the main bunch.
Speaking to Cyclingnews in December, Orica GreenEdge's other classics specialist, 2007 Paris-Roubaix winner Stuart O'Grady described the team's performance in the Classics during their inaugural year as "pretty bad," with the WorldTour debutants left trying to salvage something after Langeveld got injured.
"Sebastian was our team captain and he had a big crash and then everything was kind of thrown on to me and you don't just flick a switch and try and win the Classics, I wasn't prepared for that," he said. "Hopefully next year we can go in and be much more competitive in the cobbled Classics and even the Ardennes.
"It was our first year and we had a lot of young guys. Some hadn't even ridden Paris-Roubaix before. We were pretty green in that area and we kind of put all our eggs into Sebastian. In the end, we were trying to get the best out of a very bad situation."
Orica GreenEdge general manager Shayne Bannan is firm of the belief that it's the extra year of racing that is making the difference this time around
"I think it's just being another year older. You don't see too many young guys performing well in the Classics or apart from Sagan - he's a freak. Sebastian's got a lot of experience behind him, he's got a team that's really dedicated to him and I think another year makes all the difference," he said of the 28-year-old Dutchman whose palmares include the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Next up for the team will be Gent-Wevelgem which will see the return of Matt Goss following his crash at Milan-San Remo last weekend. The focus there will be on the Australian sprinter who according to Bannan is fit and ready to go.
"He was out doing a recon of the course today," Bannan said. "He's in a good frame of mind and looking forward to Sunday."
With Langeveld finishing just outside the top-20 at Milan San Remo, Keukeleire is expecting better things from Orica GreenEdge this Classics season.
"We're definitely really confident," he said. "I think Sebastian is also in a better place than where he was last year and he showed that in Milan-San Remo as well. We just have to do as good as we can and we hope we can be there in the final.
"If you're not the strongest at these races, you have to be a bit lucky. If you know your way around here, you can force it a little bit. You just have to be a little bit more lucky than the really strong guys."
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