Team manager Julian Winn believes both Great Britain team leaders Nicole Cooke and Emma Pooley can finish in the top ten at the women’s Fleche Wallonne today (Wednesday).
“Nicole knows how to win this race and she’ll turn herself inside out on the climb to go with [Marianne] Vos or any of the other dangerous riders,” said Winn.
“Emma is the fastest climber in the world when she’s on her own.”
And Winn added that Sharon Laws, riding her first race for Britain, could also be a factor.
The 103-kilometre race got underway in Huy shortly after noon Belgian time. Between now and the finish, at around 3pm, stand seven hills – the last, and most difficult, being the infamous Mur de Huy.
Cooke and Pooley are joint leaders, supported by Laws, who is riding her first World Cup race. Catherine Hare and Jessica Allen make up the team. Joanna Rowsell, who had been named on the provisional start list, did not travel as she has been unwell.
Winn spelled out the team’s gameplan.
“Basically we never want to be in a position where we have to chase,” he said. “So Cat and Jess will mark any dangerous moves that go in the first part of the race.
“Our plan is to make sure we’re in position before the penultimate climb [the Ben-Ahin with ten kilometres to go) and ensure both Nicole and Emma are in a good position as we hit the bottom of the Mur.
“Emma’s job is to ignite things in the first half of the climb. She’s the fastest climber in the world when she’s on her own. At the moment she’s still learning how to position herself. She’s learning quickly so it’ll be interesting to see how she goes.
“She could start the Mur in 40th place and be fifth at the top, she’s that quick, so for her it’s all about where she is when they start the climb.
“Nicole knows how to win this race. She is such a fighter, she turns herself inside out. I think we could have two riders in the top ten.”
And Winn added that he was looking forward to seeing how Laws fares in her first race for Great Britain. The 33-year-old, who was second in the Australian national road race championship in January, only returned to Britain in the past fortnight.
Yesterday the riders rode part of the course and Laws matched Cooke and Pooley as they tested out the Mur.
“She looked so comfortable. It’s a new experience for her but there’s absolutely no pressure on her. She can go out there and see how she does.”
According to Winn, the four riders on the Halfords Bikehut Boardman bikes have a smallest gear of 39×25. Pooley, who is riding her team issue Specialized, has 39×26 because that’s how the SRAM groupset comes equipped.
Asked if the Mur would suit her, Pooley said: “If it goes uphill, it’ll suit me.”