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GENT, Belgium — Luke Rowe, just like most riders on Team Sky, doesn’t get many chances to race to win. At least not for himself.
As Team Sky has emerged as king of the yellow jersey, Rowe has slotted into an important role in the grand tour-winning machine. He’s raced four consecutive editions of Tour de France, working hard in the trenches to win four straight yellow jerseys with Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas.
Over the next few weeks, Rowe will have the rare chance to race for his own results. Instead of pulling for someone else, the team will be pulling for him.
“When the door opens, you don’t want to let it go,” Rowe said. “I will get my opportunity in the classics.”
Rowe, 29, has the engine and experience to be a factor throughout this year’s classics campaign. Though Sky’s track record in the northern classics isn’t nearly as stellar as its run in the Tour, the team has scored a few major results. Rowe has been in the thick of the action more than a few times, finishing eighth in the 2015 Paris-Roubaix and fifth in the Tour of Flanders the following year.
Rowe is keen to get “stuck in,” and hopes to be a protagonist over the next few weeks. He already has 26 days of racing in his legs following a season debut at the Santos Tour Down Under. He’ll race a full classics schedule from E3 Binckbank Classic on Friday through Roubaix.
“The last few years have gone wrong for whatever reason,” he said of the classics. “Hopefully I can land a result this year.”
Rowe was a surprise starter in last year’s classics, only to get kicked out of Flanders as part of the UCI’s new race review policy.
“Last year was a year of the highest highs, and the lowest lows,” he said. “To do my leg like that was scary, especially when the original prognosis is you might not ride the bike again, and to come back sooner than expected. You gotta move on. It was a complete circle. I have a son that is four months old, so to go through my injury, my wife giving birth, winning the Tour, it was a real rollercoaster.”
Rowe broke his leg in a freak accident during a rafting trip in the late summer of 2017 after winning the Tour with Froome, only to bounce back to be able to start the classics. During Flanders, however, he hopped onto a bike path to avoid hitting fans on the side of the road. Rowe said he was only racing defensively and safely, and pointed out that he lost position going into the decisive second passage up the Kwaremont. The race jury saw it differently and controversially kicked him out of the race.
“At Flanders, it was either hit a tree or hit a pedestrian … at 60kph, to get disqualified for that — that’s a bit much,” he said. “I could see hundreds of occasions of riders using the bike path to their advantage, and I went from 50th to 80th position, a huge disadvantage, going onto the Kwaremont the second time. Maybe that commissaire can take a trip to ‘Lens Savers.’”
Rowe isn’t losing any sleep over what happened last year at Flanders. He’s emerged as one of the most reliable riders in “Fortress Froome,” and plays a critical role in the flats to protect the team’s GC riders. With Egan Bernal emerging as a new team leader, Team Sky will remain focused on the grand tours. And that means that Rowe is usually on domestique duty most of the season.
“Every race we go to we have big ambitions. It’s rare to go to a race that we do not try to win it,” Rowe said. “That limits your opportunities to race to win, but you have to accept that and embrace it.”
Rowe will be center stage for the next few weekends, then it will be back to doing the dirty work in the grand tours. He wants to make sure he makes the most of the opportunity.