Luke Rowe has made massive strides over the last few years in the classics, which has set him up for joint leadership in Paris-Roubaix next Sunday (April 10). Rowe says that he hopes to head Team Sky with Ian Stannard and provide the team its best result yet in the cobbled classic.
The 26-year-old Welshman had his best results so far in 2016. He placed fourth in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last month and on Sunday in Ghent-Wevelgem, he just missed the winning group with Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and attacked several times in the final. Afterwards, he took shelter in Sky’s bus while a storm passed over Wevelgem and then poked his head out to talk.
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“I definitely noticed I’ve gone up a level,” Rowe told Cycling Weekly. “I feel more confident, and in the peloton, where I used to be just hanging on over the climbs, I’m in the thick end of things. Moving on to Roubaix, I hope to go in as a joint leader with Ian Stannard.”
Sky in the last two years worked for Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas in the Hell of the North. This year, both Rowe and Stannard stepped up a notch while Wiggins left top-end road cycling and Thomas turned his attention to stage races.
In December, the team previewed the cobble sectors through northern France that make the race so famous. At that time, head classics sports director Servais Knaven said: “Ian and Luke are really up for it. They want the leader’s role and want to take the chance. Luke made a big step last year, worked a lot in the Tour of Flanders and was still up there in the final.
“That was impressive. Also in Roubaix, where he just missed the final group on the last sector. That was big for him and he’s still disappointed about that. Luke and Ian work well together and they know each other well.”
Rowe placed highest for Sky in eighth last year in Roubaix. The team’s best performance was in its first year, when Juan Antonio Flecha placed third.
Rowe was “frustrated” to miss the four-man group with Sagan that went on to win Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday. He had followed the attack over the Kemmelberg, but said that when Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) lost pace, he was distanced too.
He sees progression, however. “Definitely, that race today was 243 kilometres. Even in the last 10 kilometres, I felt strong,” Rowe added. “I was attacking and felt quite strong. It is just nice to have that confidence in the late stages of a long race and still have the legs.”
Those legs will support Rowe through this Sunday’s Tour of Flanders. His job is to help Sky’s leaders Michal Kwiatkowski and ‘G’ Thomas.
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“I’ll take confidence into the coming weeks. I’m there to lay it down on the line for them boys. What ever they want, I’ll do it. We have guys who can genuinely win the race. They say, ‘Jump.’ I say, ‘How high?'”
Rowe raced in the Three Days of De Panne today, where he placed fifth, to lead up to Flanders on Sunday and then the Scheldeprijs next Wednesday ahead of Paris-Roubaix.