Geraint Thomas will line up as Team Sky’s leader for E3 Harelbeke in top form and with his confidence high after a strong start to the season. The Welshman, who comes into the Belgian race after an impressive ride in Milan-San Remo, was on the podium in E3 last year and believes that he and his team can challenge for top honours from now until the end of the cobbled campaign.
“I was pretty nailed the first few days after Milan-San Remo but I’m looking forward to the next few weeks and hopefully I’ll get something out of it,” Thomas told Cyclingnews at the Team Sky’s Belgian base in the centre of Kortrijk.
Thomas has already tasted success this season with a stage win and the overall title in the Volta ao Algarve. Along with that triumph he has played significant roles in the outcome of Paris-Nice and last weekend’s Milan-San Remo.
However he and the team are now fully focused on the next block of racing in Belgium and after skipping Dwars door Vlaanderen Team Sky’s core Classics contingent of Thomas, Stannard and Luke Rowe will start E3 with no fear as they take on teams such as Etiix-QuickStep and BMC Racing.
“Obviously QuickStep and BMC are strong but I don’t see us being any weaker than them. We have a few cards to play and Luke Rowe has stepped up this year and Eisel and Knees both know the roads so well. It feels like we’re constantly growing as a team, especially the core of us, and we know what we’re getting into when you compare us to 2011 when it was the first time I did these races.
“There is a real strength and depth to the overall field though. It’s so hard and there are so many strong riders out there. It’s not as easy as just saying we want to win a Classic. But I’m in the best shape I’ve been in and Stannard is going well too. We’re all in the best position physically.”
While Tom Boonen remains at home and nurses his injures Fabian Cancellara returns to E3 as the most recognised Classics campaigner of his generation. He has won the race three times in his career and has often used the race as a prequel to domination at Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Despite a below par Milan-San Remo by his own lofty standards, Thomas thinks that the veteran Swiss rider can still deliver, and any talk of a changing of the guard is far from certain.
“If you look at Fabian I remember one year he didn’t show that much and then he came out and won E3 and then went onto win Flanders and Roubaix. He’s not finished, that’s for sure but like I said the depth behind him and Boonen is bigger and more competitive. It’s coming with guys like Stybar, Sagan, Vanmarcke, Van Avermaet, myself and Stannard.”
E3 will at least give a fuller indication of how close the rest have moved to within Cancellara. The course has remained relatively similar to last year, although two more climbs have been added, the finish line comes a little further away from the last climb, and the last three kilometres finish in a different location.
“It could be a lot more tactical but it depends on the scenario once you get over the Kwaremont. If you’ve got four riders off the front and they’re all wiling to work then it could be hard to pull back but if there’s a headwind, or one or two guys sitting on, it could change. Tactics and numbers are going to be key and we’ve seen before that this could come down to a small bunch sprint. There’s no doubt that this is a hard race though and everyone is on their knees by the time you get to the finish.”
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