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KORTRIJK, Belgium (VN) — And then there was one.
Sky’s Geraint Thomas on Friday was named the leader of the squad for the Ronde Van Vlaanderen , taking up the British team’s mantle in the second monument of the year.
He certainly isn’t the favorite — that distinction is shared by Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard). But in Sky he has a team as strong as any in the race, and Thomas has a swift finishing kick.
Asked if he thought he could win the Ronde, Thomas replied, “I don’t see why not.”
In a small meeting with a few reporters, he noted that Sagan and Cancellara will be watched closely, and could perhaps negate one another. It’s here that Thomas may find his opportunity.
“I think my advantage is I’m not as big a rider as those two, and I can just sort of watch those two battle it out in a way and just try and sneak under the radar a bit. Because I don’t think either of them will be scared of me at all. I’ll just try and use that,” he said.
Sky has yet to show the prowess on cobbles that it demonstrates in multiday races, but the world’s best stage-racing team has turned its focus to the classics this year. The riders skipped traditional spring proving grounds such as Paris-Nice, instead opting for training camps on Tenerife.
Designating Thomas as the leader also is a something of a departure for Sky, which employed a platoon approach earlier in the cobbled classics.
“G is going to be the leader,” said Servais Knaven, a former Paris-Roubaix winner and Sky director in Belgium. “At the other races we didn’t work with one real captain, because we wanted to give everyone a chance. They were training all winter for these two, three weeks. And we wanted to give everybody different roles in different races, so everybody got their own opportunity to show what they can do.”
Knaven said Sky would benefit from a hard race early on, to isolate the stars from other teams and draw on its depth, from Edvald Boasson Hagen to Ian Stannard and Bernhard Eisel (who is recovering from a bug). Thomas can then hope to wiggle free.
“He showed he was up for it. So now it’s with one guy, with one leader,” Knaven said. “But still we have other guys who are really almost at the same level.
“For us, it will be really good to have a hard race, and not wait until the second time up Kwaremont. I’m sure G can follow Sagan and Cancellara. With the numbers we have, it’s good to play also on those numbers, like with Matthew Hayman and Edvald and Ian Stannard. And normally Bernie, but we’ll see.”
For Thomas, it’s the biggest chance in his road career, though he’s been under enormous pressure on the track, where he won a gold medal in the team pursuit during the London Olympics. The pressure, he says, won’t get to him, though there is a heavy amount of it.
“Yeah, I guess so, but no more than sitting in the chairs, two minutes before an Olympic final in London. That’s pretty intense,” he said. “It’s just one of those things now. Pressure is just the norm. You deal with it. You have your mental things the way you think and whatever. I seem to cope a bit all right so far.”