Talking to Luke Rowe in the Catalan sunshine in March is not the most frequent of experiences for a cycling reporter, given that normally at this time of year, the Ineos Grenadiers racer is in the thick of the Classics a couple of thousand kilometres further north.
But after years where the rider from Cardiff has centred his first half of the season around Paris-Nice then Milan-San Remo and almost all the cobbled Classics through to Paris-Roubaix, this time, after the UAE Tour and la Primavera, Rowe headed west for a first-ever participation in Volta a Catalunya.
For Ineos Grenadiers the result in the Volta was their best ever in a single stage race, taking the top three places overall. For Rowe, a week on the roads of Catalonia represented a very new way of tackling the last cobbled Classics of the spring.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it, it’s been a very different approach to it for myself. Normally I’d do the whole lot. This time, it's just a case of Flanders and hopefully Roubaix,” Rowe told Cyclingnews.
“I had a big setback with COVID over Christmas, and that was pretty much it. Some guys brush it off, but it hit me hard, and I was pretty much out of action for a whole month so that put me on the back foot.”
Hence the Volta a Catalunya: “It was really a case of getting some stage racing in and coming here and looking after the little fellers and building that foundation a bit.”
Although it has been a very different approach, the Welshman says he’s not complaining, because, “this is actually what I enjoy the most, being with a team like this, when you’re going to a stage race and winning - it’s an amazing feeling.
“In terms of condition, I’ve been slogging out on the front a lot, I’ve had a lot of nose in the wind and that can only be good for you. It’s tough, but in any case my condition is what it is. I’m not going stand here and say I’m going to do this and that and the other in the Classics, but hopefully it’ll be a decent little campaign.”
Speaking shortly before news emerged that teammate Jhonatan Narváez had been knocked out from racing with a broken scaphoid at E3 Saxo Bank Classic, but in any case looking at the bigger picture beyond 2021, Rowe said he regarded the new addition of Tom Pidcock to the lineup and Narvaez’s steady progress in the Classics as only bringing benefits.
“They are guys who can win, so that’s exciting for the years to come. In years to come we can go to those races with great aspirations, take on the other squads and go win them.
“For a few years now, we’ve said we’ve got a strong team, but with myself, Dylan [Van Baarle], Gianni [Moscon] and Yogi [Ian Stannard, now retired] it was hard to look at the lineup and see a real winner.
“Now we’ve still got strong guys with Dylan and what have you, but we’ve also got the strongest Classics team we’ve had in a long time.”
There’s a strong possibility that Paris-Roubaix may not happen, but Rowe said, in terms of how they approach the other events up to a point, it is irrelevant.
“Flanders is Flanders, you go balls to the wall as it is, and if Roubaix’s cancelled, it’s cancelled, although hopefully it’s not. Flanders is a huge race, there’s enough pressure as it is. So in that sense, it doesn’t change much.”
While he didn’t have time to look at the Classics on television after the stages in Catalonia, he’s been keeping up to speed with how Ineos Grenadiers have been performing there.
“I’ve been looking at the results from time to time to see how the boys went, have a chat to one or two of them and get a bit of an inside scoop,” he said.
So is he optimistic? “We’ll got there and we’ll have a dabble.”
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