Sky planning offensive against Cancellara on the Roubaix cobbles

After a disappointing Tour of Flanders, the British squad knows it has to attack the Swiss early and with numbers on the cobbles

KORTRIJK, Belgium (VN) — Sky’s leaders, Ian Stannard and Edvald Boasson Hagen, remain optimistic for Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix, even after a setback in last weekend’s Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders). Their plan for the “Hell of the North?” Attack.

Norwegian champion Boasson Hagen explained that he is ready.

“There are not the climbs, so it could be better for me,” Boasson Hagen said Friday. “I haven’t been good yet, but I’m getting older and stronger; it should be possible.”

Boasson Hagen saw the winning move ride free in De Ronde on Sunday. When Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) attacked with Peter Sagan (Cannondale) on the Oude Kwaremont, Boasson Hagen sat third wheel, but was unable to follow.

Sky’s leader Geraint Thomas crashed earlier and had just chased back so was short of breath. Afterwards, everyone tried to put on a smile, but it was clear disappointment reigned.

“If you have a bad turn of events, the team is put on the back foot …” explained Stannard. “The sports directors try to put on a bit of smile, but they were disappointed and there was nothing we could do.”

Ian Stannard says Sky is back to full strength

British champion Stannard was sick last week and out of the picture. He suffered a common cold that was partly due to the poor weather conditions the spring classics have seen.

In a snowy and wet Milano-Sanremo, Stannard almost rode to the win with rival Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). The Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka) chase group caught the duo, but Stannard shaped the last couple of kilometers with another attack and placed sixth.

He said he felt better after Flanders. He could be Sky’s best chance at winning Roubaix.

“Last weekend I didn’t feel 100 percent, it was disappointing. I came down with a cold and I was just struggling. I ended up further and further back and walking up the Koppenberg,” Stannard said. “It’d be nice if we can race in a bit of sun, to be honest.”

Stannard, a four-year mainstay at Sky after racing with Landbouwkrediet and ISD for a year each in 2008 and 2009, respectively, will line up for his fifth Roubaix. He admitted that this is his best chance so far for the cobbled trophy.

“I know the race quite well. … It’d be nice to finish off [the classics] with a podium in Roubaix, but it’s not all about this weekend,” he said. “There’s no pressure from the team, only the pressure we put on ourselves. The team’s in a lot better shape than last weekend, we are all back firing.”

The Fabian Cancellara problem

Sky’s Roubaix leadership met the press in the Hotel Messeyne on Friday. Thomas stayed in his room, playing video games with teammate Luke Rowe. Stannard and Boasson Hagen, the clear team leaders, along with sports director and 2001 Roubaix winner Servais Knaven, met journalists in the lobby.

Knaven told VeloNews that he was scheming on how to take on the No. 1 favorite, Cancellara.

“You must not wait until Carrefour de l’Arbre [sector 4, 18km from the finish] or maybe a few sections before. If you are with Cancellara, maybe you can follow him, but looking at [De Ronde], it could be that you’d be racing for second,” Knaven explained. “You need to be ready to attack him. … You have to be there and ready to take action.”

The Dutchman refused to reveal much more, adding, “You’ll have to wait until we’re in Roubaix.” The plan, however, seems to be as he explained: attack.

If Sky allows RadioShack to control the race until Cancellara fires, the race may already be lost, much the way it was in 2012 when Stannard, Boasson Hagen, Mathew Hayman, and Juan Antonio Flecha headed the failed pursuit of Tom Boonen’s solo flyer from 53km out.

“How do we win? Numbers,” Stannard said. “We have to be in front of Cancellara. Everyone knew what he was going to do last week. He’s got to come up to us really. It’s easier said than done, though.”

Part of the strategy will be to have a man in the escape. Whoever it is, he will have his chance to win, like Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp) in 2011, but must be prepared to pull if one of his leaders bridges in the closing kilometers.

Ready to go

After finishing their chat with the press, Stannard, Boasson Hagen, and Knaven returned to their rooms briefly before dinner, Roubaix on their minds.

They know they must attack and race more aggressively than they did one week earlier. The man to beat knows it, too.

Cancellara said earlier on Friday, “They have a strong team overall. I’m expecting something from Sky.”