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Porte, Froome give Sky extra boost for Ardennes classics

Sky re-tools for Flèche Wallonne, Liège–Bastogne–Liège with stage racing aces

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MAASTRICHT, Netherlands (VN) — Red-hot Richie Porte and Chris Froome will give Sky an extra shot of horsepower for the Ardennes classics as the U.K. team tries to salvage its spring campaign with a final-hour win.

Porte and Froome, two of the hottest riders so far this spring with three major victories in stage races between them, will try their luck in the hilly Belgian classics.

Porte will race Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne and Froome will parachute in to start Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday.

So far, the Sky juggernaut has fallen flat in the classics, despite an added focus on the one-day races. After an unconventional approach to the spring, with a training camp in the Canary Islands on Tenerife, the team suffered a string of bad luck and less-than-expected results throughout the northern classics.

The Ardennes squad, however, sees the arrival of Froome and Porte along with confirmed puncheurs Rigoberto Urán and Sergio Henao.

Henao kicked to sixth in the group sprint behind winner Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) in Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race, giving the team confidence coming into the Ardennes.

“No, we don’t feel pressure. We have a strong team here and we hope to do well, but there are many factors in a race,” Urán told VeloNews. “We have a very strong team here this week. We have a lot of cards to play.”

So far, Sky has come up short in its attempts to broaden its success beyond its domination of stage races in 2012. Last year, it was Bradley Wiggins who lit up the spring, with a near-perfect run through the early-season stage races before his Tour de France-Olympics double.

This year, Wiggins has kept a lower profile, racing only a few select events before tackling the Giro d’Italia next month. The defending Tour champ is racing this week at the Giro del Trentino to sharpen his form before the May 4 start of the Giro.

Instead, it’s been Porte and Froome who have stepped up. Porte has been on a terrific run, with victory at Paris-Nice and second places at Critérium International and the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country). Froome, meanwhile, has won the Tour of Oman and Critérium International.

But how much they bring to Sky’s classics hopes remains to be seen. Both are short on experience in the technically demanding, challenging races. Porte has never raced in the Ardennes while Froome has raced here three times, between 2008 and 2010, when he was starting to find his racing legs.

The Kenyan-born rider has since developed into one of the peloton’s elite stage racers, but his Ardennes credentials have been unimpressive. His best came in 2009, when he was 34th in Flèche and 45th in Liège.

That certainly doesn’t mean they cannot be factors in either race, especially in Liège, which typically favors grand tour riders more than the puncheur-friendly Flèche.

Also arriving this week are reliable workhorses David López and Danny Pate. Even if Porte and Froome only ride in support for the likes of Henao or Urán, their strength will provide more firepower for Sky’s final shot at a classics podium.

Both Urán and Henao are capable of winning on these courses. Henao won a stage last week at the Basque tour on a steep, narrow finish very similar to Flèche.

A big win this week would push back much of the criticism over the British squad’s classics campaign and cap what has otherwise been an incredible spring for Sky.