Apart from the usual suspects, Kelly has also noticed a few young successors to the throne that could also feature.
“I think Sep Vanmarcke is a rider we could see at the Tour of Flanders,” Kelly says of Garmin-Barracuda’s 23-year-old winner of Omloop Het Niewsblaad. “He’s that style of rider. The short hills he can get up. The longer hills I don’t think he’s able to do at the moment, but he is young and again, it’s all about experience. Because he’s from Belgium, he knows the roads so well and all of that is a huge factor in Flanders and we will probably see him in Roubaix too.
“I think the other guy that we will see is John Degenkolb of [Project]1t4i. I was really surprised to see him getting over the Poggio and getting up in the finale even if he has been third in the under-23 Tour of Flanders. We’ve seen guys win U23 classics, but to be able to manage the distance with the pros is another thing. When you get to the bottom of the Poggio, you’ve 275km done; that’s around 80km more than the U23 Paris-Roubaix. That’s a huge performance. He paid a bit in the end. He got beaten in the sprint by Sagan because he went so deep on the Poggio that it knocked the sprint out of him, but Degenkolb has made a big step in San Remo. He could make another big step forward in Flanders.”
And what of his compatriots in the pro peloton? Can Kelly see an Irish classics winner this year, the first since his final classic win in San Remo in 1992?
“Dan Martin is capable of winning a race like Flèche Wallone,” he said of the Garmin climber. “If he gets into his best shape and the circumstance is right, he can win it. The weather has to be right too. You don’t want a horrible, cold, wet day because he’s not built for that, but it’s definitely within his grasp.”