Opinion on what constitutes the best final tune-up stage race for the Classics has been divided into two schools of thought: those who swear by Paris-Nice and those who prefer Tirreno-Adriatico.
In a move that is sure to attract a great deal of analysis in the coming weeks, however, Team Sky's Head of Performance Support Tim Kerrison has decided that the team's Classics squad will avoid both races, and instead will attend a collective training camp at altitude.
Thus, rather than race in France or Italy in early March, Team Sky's classics outfit, including Geraint Thomas, Bernhard Eisel and Edvald Boasson Hagen, will train in the relative seclusion of Mount Teide, Tenerife for close to two weeks ahead of Milano-Sanremo. The dormant volcano was an important training site for Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome ahead of the 2012 Tour de France, as well as for third-placed Vincenzo Nibali an many of his new Astana and former Liquigas-Cannondale teammates.
"It hasn't been done before for the classics, so it was a bit of a surprise," Thomas said of Kerrison's plan. "But Tim is pretty clever and I think he knows the breakdown of the races and the efforts we need to do. I think it's worth committing to it this year and seeing how it goes. It's not the end of the world if it doesn't happen, although we all want to have a good classics campaign for sure."
After a year largely spent away from the road preparing for the team pursuit at the London 2012 Olympics, Thomas would doubtless have been glad to see the back of training camps for the foreseeable future, but the Welshman is open to the experiment.
"Obviously you just want to race because that's what we enjoy doing, so that's the only negative point to it but I'm still looking forward to it. We've got a good group here, a good bunch of guys. It's not like you're stuck on top of a mountain with a bunch of knob heads," he joked.
Control appears to be something of a keyword at Team Sky, be it the team's policing of the peloton at the Tour de France or its management's attitude to public relations. The thinking behind the pre-Classics camp is to train in a controlled environment, rather than be left at the mercy of racing and cold European weather. Indeed, a couple of long, slow days of racing at last year's Tirreno-Adriatico were blamed in part for the team's disappointing Milan-San Remo showing.
"I think it's just being more specific and controlling everything you're doing, and doing more specific efforts," Thomas explained. "Some days in a race can be easy and some days hard, so I think this is really a case of getting some structure and doing what you want."
Return to racing
Before that novel training camp, however, Thomas has a long diet of racing ahead of him. When the 26-year-old returned to the road last September after taking team pursuit gold in London, his aim was simply to feel his way back into the peloton. He was glad to play a more pro-active part in his first race of 2013, the Tour Down Under, where he won a stage and finished third overall.
"I've just been looking forward to getting fit and really being part of the races, rather than like the end of last year after the Games, when it was more a case of racing just to get around and get a bit of fitness ahead of the winter," he said. "It's just good to be racing hard and involved in the race again.
"I'd done plenty of kilometres before Down Under. I hadn't done too much specific work but I knew I was pretty light and pretty strong, and it was nice to get a result."
Thomas has also been to the fore at the Tour of Qatar this week, although he maintained that Team Sky's challenge for the general classification will come from Edvald Boasson Hagen or the in-form Bernhard Eisel.
"If it's not windy, then it's down to bonuses and sprints really, so obviously Edvald and Bernie sort of pick themselves really," he said.
The focus, however, is on the main events in late March and early April, from Milan-San Remo to Paris-Roubaix. "We've definitely got a good bunch of guys, we're motivated and working hard to be at our best for March and April. It's an exciting couple of months ahead."
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