Jonathan Tiernan-Locke begins a new adventure in the Ardennes Classics. Starting with the Amstel Gold Race today, his goal is to support his Sky team-mates and to learn.
"It's fantastic," Tiernan-Locke told Cycling Weekly with the roar of the crowd outside Maastricht's city hall. "It's pretty much like the biggest thing I've done so far."
Since signing with Sky from Endura he has raced stage races, so the Ardennes Classics are the biggest one-day races he has ever faced. The only comparison is to the World Championships last year, when he raced on similar parcours to that of the Amstel Gold Race.
"It's a bit of déjà-vu coming back so soon, we are even staying in the same hotel," he continued.
"The distance, I raced it one-time last year and it was a challenge, and it's the same again today. The speed of a WorldTour race, it's going to be a challenge."
Because of the sportive event, Sky was unable to reconnoitre the key Amstel climbs yesterday. Instead, Tiernan-Locke and team-mates - such as Edvald Boasson Hagen, Rigoberto Urán, Sergio Henao - trained nearby.
"With these small roads, lots of little climbs, had we reconned it not much would've stayed in the memory anyway.
"It's really technical, it's that wears you down, all the accelerations. If you're not at the front then you waste a lot of time braking for road furniture. But with around 200 guys in the bunch, it's hard to be there."
The 28-year-old starts a bit on his back foot. A saddle sore developed in the Tour of the Basque Country forced him to take three days off the bike. Using antibiotics and creams, he returned and said that yesterday he rode without discomfort.
Fans crowded as he spoke. The speaker continued to announce names, riders like Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha), Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale). Tiernan-Locke appeared calm all the same.
"The level's different, but I've done this role before so that doesn't change. It's just a higher speed," he continued.
"I have to keep [the leaders] out of trouble and get them as far to the end of race as possible. The goal is to learn and to make myself as useful as possible, to get the guys like Urán, Henao, Kiryienka, Edvald as far into the race as I can. All the little things, too. Like someone's got to be fetching water bottles, someone's got to be riding in the wind, just get them to the final as fresh as possible."
The "guys" change for Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. Chris Froome and Richie Porte arrive. Tiernan-Locke's role as domestique will be the same, but he also keeps a watchful eye. What he takes in this year he could use in the future.
"I've done well in decent one-days before, this is a step up, but I took some confidence in the Worlds last year. The result wasn't fantastic, but I was sort of there or there abouts. I'm not riding for myself today, but I can take a lot of things from it, I can learn and take that to next year and so on."
Amstel Gold Race 2013: Who will win?
Amstel Gold Race 2013: The Big Preview
Spring Classics 2013 coverage index
Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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