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Lieutenant Oss: Tactics can make the difference in the classics

Daniel Oss is a hardman of the spring classics and embraces his role as the top lieutenant for Peter Sagan.

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OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — Bora-Hansgrohe’s Daniel Oss is a classics hardman who has never won a classic. That hasn’t stopped him from carving out a role as one of cycling’s most well-known lieutenants.

When Greg Van Avermaet won last year’s Paris-Roubaix, he was quick to give a specific shoutout to his BMC teammate Oss, who had slotted into a critical early attack to help soften up the peloton. Oss won’t be riding alongside Van Avermaet on the Roubaix cobbles this season, however, having signed up to shepherd Peter Sagan in the classics instead.

He didn’t just fall into that niche. It’s something he embraces.

“With Peter, or with Greg, or in the past with Thor Hushovd — I’m not that kind of rider,” Oss told VeloNews ahead of the Tour of Flanders. “I’m not a champion. I haven’t won so much. I have the legs and understand, I have ambition, but when you play such a big race like this, you have to focus on your leader.”

Like Sagan, Oss got his WorldTour start with Liquigas. He joined BMC Racing in 2013 and spent five seasons there before reuniting with the three-time world champ at Bora. Knowing Sagan from his early years made it simple for Oss to slot into his job as Sagan’s point man on the cobbles.

“Peter is an easy rider, instinctive, the kind of rider that I like. It’s pretty easy for me to connect,” Oss said.

He described Sagan as someone who prefers a quieter radio, although he noted that the world champ does like to stay fully informed about the race situation.

Bora has invested in multiple veterans to surround wunderkind Sagan in the one-day races. Marcus Burghardt is another classics stalwart who has been highly visible these past few weeks putting in work at the front. On the whole, however, it’s a youthful organization. Oss said that Bora as a team may have less experience racing at the top level than, say, BMC, but that makes it fun for him.

“The feeling is good because it’s a young team. If you think about the WorldTour, it’s just the second year,” he said. “It’s positive energy because they want to grow, they want to push hard to go forward to prove things. For me this is really nice, feeling a part of something good and full of energy.”

The experience that the likes of Oss and Burghardt bring to Bora makes communication among squadmates easier. Oss stressed the importance of clarity within a team going into big bike races.

“I like to be clear and to understand [the plan] before what’s going to happen. I can also adjust some situations when I see them because I have a lot of experience and a lot of races on my shoulders,” he said.

“In a sport like this, the tactics can make the difference. You have to have a good connection with those in the car, the sport directors, riders, and the radio. And also, sometimes it’s not necessary to speak too much. Just feelings, looks. But you get that over the years. It’s not immediate.”

Communication will come in handy on Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen and again next week at Paris-Roubaix if Bora hopes to challenge the likes of Quick-Step Floors. Bora’s initial foray onto the cobblestones in this recent stretch of classics did not go off without a hitch, as neither Sagan nor Oss could hang with the lead group at E3 Harelbeke. Sagan went on to win Gent-Wevelgem just two days later, however.

In Oss’s opinion, the team is firing on all cylinders right now.

“Sure you can always improve. Even Quick-Step. But also it kind of comes in waves. One day it’s perfect, one day not,” he said.

The aforementioned Quick-Step has won practically every other notable tune-up event ahead of the two cobbled monuments. Indeed, Oss agreed with many of his peers that Quick-Step is the team to watch this classics season.

It’s not easy taking on a juggernaut with so many options. Oss said Bora’s best bet was to go all-in for the team’s ace.

“We have to for sure defend Peter as much as we can,” he said. “That means avoiding stress, crashes. Keep calm as much as we can. That means that in certain situations he won’t have to think about closing the gap or staying in front in a special climb or a strange situation in the race. He just has to look to the final.”

All that said, Oss acknowledged it may be tactically valuable to put in his own moves. He’s come close to picking up results for himself in the past, riding to third at E3 Harelbeke in 2013, for instance. He won’t shy away from that this season at Flanders or Roubaix – but only if he thinks it’s right for the overall team strategy.

“We can make tactics that when I can anticipate, I can do like last year in Roubaix, go off the front early, because if I stay with the leaders I can do nothing. But that’s also a good move for the leaders,” he said. “The main goal of the tactics is to create situations where you have the right guys in the right situations. It can be [possible to get your own results]. It’s difficult. It’s molto improbabile. But it can be. It’s cycling — it’s not mathematics.”