Daniel Oss is anticipating a war of attrition when the Tour of Flanders' new finish at Oudenaarde is inaugurated on Sunday, where the Italian lines up alongside the in-form Peter Sagan at the head of a youthful Liquigas-Cannondale team.
Gone is the classic finale of the Muur van Geraardsbergen and the Bosberg, replaced by a combination of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg, which will each be tackled on three occasions before the finish in Oudenaarde. Although Oss has not yet reconnoitred the new lay-out, he is familiar enough with the terrain to understand what kind of ordeal awaits.
"We haven't tried it, but we know it because it's a part of the old Flanders route that repeats itself," Oss told Cyclingnews at his team's classics base at the Kennedy Hotel in Kortrijk. "It might well be that there'll be an initial selection on the first lap and then maybe fewer opportunities for the riders who've been dropped to get back on. If you're dropped the first time around, it's going to be very hard to get back on, and even if you do manage it, you're going to be empty by then anyway."
As Belgian cycling's Holy Week draws on, there is a growing sense of expectation that De Ronde will eventually prove to be a battle between the individual might of Fabian Cancellara and the collective force of Tom Boonen's Omega Pharma-QuickStep team.
"That could really make the difference for Boonen because we've seen that the team in these races are really important," said Oss, who agreed that a tactical standoff between RadioShack-Nissan and Omega Pharma-QuickStep might also leave the door ajar for Liquigas' young duo. "Certainly, if we succeed in staying up there once there's been a selection, then we could play our cards tactically. What have we got to wait for?"
On Tuesday's opening stage of the Three Days of De Panne, Oss drove a mid-stage breakaway while Sagan lurked in the wings behind, eventually taking out the sprint victory in Oudenaarde. It seemed almost like a practice exercise for Sunday, where Oss might well look to go on the offensive after the 200km mark and allow Sagan to observe the other favourites behind.
"I could anticipate in some way, and find a way to get involved, and maybe Peter can wait for a better moment further into the race," he said. "If I have the legs, it's certainly something I could do."
Compared to twelve months ago, when illness interrupted Oss' preparation for the classics, the Trentino native seems to have arrived in Belgium ready to be a factor this time around. He was prominent towards the front end of the peloton in piloting Sagan to second place at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday.
"Yeah, I'm feeling good, and I've had a steady build-up. These first races up here are important for understanding how things are going to be, because racing here is different to everywhere else," said Oss, who is determined to put last year's disappointment behind him. "Last year, I came to Flanders in a worse state because I was ill beforehand and I was still trying to chase my form."
Oss, whose love of the classics stems from "curiosity for something different to the usual cycling" enjoyed a fine campaign on the pave in 2010 as a second-year professional, finishing 5th at Gent Wevelgem. Now 25 years of age, he is determined to deliver on that initial promise. Among the hundreds of thousands on the roadside on Sunday will be a pocket of Oss tifosi from Pergine Valsugana near Trento, who will make an 11-hour pilgrimage by road to see their man in action.
"They're coming up on Saturday in two 10-seater mini buses. They'll stay in Brussels, watch the race and then head back down on Monday morning," Oss explained. "It's hard for them because they're working, but I told them that in Belgium there's a special atmosphere and that it's worth the effort to come up and see the race."
And will he feel under any particular pressure to deliver a performance for their benefit? "No, they're coming up to enjoy themselves."
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