For many, Paris-Roubaix is the Queen of the Classics. For Geraint Thomas (Sky), at least at this remove, it has the feel of a consolation prize. The Welshman has had his heart set on the Tour of Flanders since his first visits to Belgium as a teenager, and he entered last week’s race as one of the principal favourites after a stylish victory at E3 Harelbeke.
The Ronde turned out to be a disappointment for Thomas, however. After his Sky team policed the peloton for much of the opening 200 kilometres of racing, he was unable to follow the winning move of Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) in the finale, and had to settle for 14th place in Oudenaarde.
"It's hard to say what happened. I wasn't that bad, but just not as good as the weekend before," Thomas told reporters in Kortrijk on Friday afternoon. "We had all eyes on us to work and it was a bit different to how we'd raced every classic before that. But you don't lose all of your condition in a week and Paris-Roubaix suits us better as a team."
Thomas, however, admitted that his personal preference was for the Tour of Flanders. "There's just something about that race," his said wistfully. "It's kind of a shame we can't do the Tour of Flanders again this weekend."
That is not to say that Thomas will not be a factor in Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. He was, after all, Sky's best-placed rider last year, taking 7th, though his performance was eclipsed by the attention elicited by Bradley Wiggins' 9th place finish. Both men were in winning move but neither was able to land a blow in the finale. Speaking on Friday afternoon, Wiggins blamed his own lack of communication. Thomas, for his part, confessed that he had simply been exhausted.
"I think I was pretty screwed by then," he said of the approach to Roubaix, where Niki Terpstra ghosted away to win alone. "We rode quite hard all day and by the end I was pretty nailed. So it's just going to be a question of trying to it again."
Wiggins enters Paris-Roubaix pencilled in as Sky's leader – it's easy to forget that last year it was Edvald Boasson Hagen – though unlike the Tour of Flanders, the hierarchy is not as clearly defined beforehand. Thomas and Ian Stannard will also aim to be in the selections that so often form after the Arenberg Forest and Mons-en-Pevele.
"I think we won't have one designated leader because with Roubaix more stuff can happen. We've seen the way Johan Vansummeren and Stuart O'Grady have won in the past," Thomas said. "We've got a few cards to play because there's always the chance of crashes and bad luck in Roubaix."
Sky looked to control affairs at the Tour of Flanders but like all Monuments, Paris-Roubaix follows a logic all of its own. A more attacking approach seems likely from Thomas and his teammates this time around.
"It was a different situation at Flanders," Thomas said. "I think we just need to be aggressive and then not chase each other down. If Brad or Stannard is up the road, then I don't ride up to them, and vice-versa.
"I can see there being one guy arriving alone in the velodrome on Sunday, a group of five guys at the maximum. Tactically it's going to be a big game of chance."
Chance has not often been on Thomas' side at Paris-Roubaix; crashes ruined his prospects two years ago. He will hope for better fortune this time around, though he pointed out that his spring campaign was already something of a success.
"I think so. Just winning E3 alone was a massive result, and winning Algarve was very important for me too," Thomas said. "Regardless of how Sunday goes, it will still have been a great start to the year for me."
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