Chris Sutton remembers his first time doing Het Nieuwsblad in 2008. “I was so drained, from the fighting for positioning all day. I got back to the hotel, I was curled up in a ball at the end of my bed. I was aching, mentally and physically drained.”
He pauses. “You sort of get used to it now.”
It was the beginning of Sutton’s passion for the cobbles and the cut-and-thrust racing style of Belgium. He devoured knowledge from experienced Sky teammates like Mat Hayman (“he knows every centimetre, every crack of every ditch, every concrete slab on every course”) and Juan Antonio Flecha.
In the space of three years, Sutton went from the foetal position to first place, winning Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne ahead of fellow sprinters Yauheni Hutarovich and Andre Greipel.
Sutton called the victory a “surprise”, given his injury-ridden start to 2011. “The team gave me the best possible ride… the lead out was textbook from Edvald. I came flying off him like a slingshot,” he reflects.
Two in a row?
With Mark Cavendish coming into the team for Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne this Sunday, even having the opportunity to take two in a row will depend on Team Sky dynamics.
“It’d be nice to win it again, back to back. But we’ve also got Mark Cavendish, we’ll just have to wait and see… we’re all going a lot better than what we were this time last year,” he said.
Sutton will also race tomorrow’s Het Nieuwsblad, drafted in after injury to Edvald Boasson Hagen. “Maybe it’ll take it take a bit out of me, but nothing really changes [as regards to KBK focus],” Sutton said.
Lead out lessons from Oman
The Australian has come from the Tour of Oman, a race which Team Sky left disappointed, as no stage win materialised for Mark Cavendish.
The world champion’s leadout train appeared to be running late. On the third stage, Cavendish came from too far back, was blocked by Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) and had to free-wheel the final 50 metres. On the last day, he was even further out of the fray and didn’t contest the sprint.
Key lead out man Chris Sutton bore some of the responsibility. “I made a mistake [on stage three]… it is frustrating: you want to win, and you want to see your teammate win, especially in the champion’s bands,” he reflected.
“We’re all trying to learn how he rides. I’m sure, when we knows the ins and outs and are all comfortable, it’ll happen… it’s a matter of learning each other.”
Sutton suggested that it is also partly a malaise borne out of Cavendish’s incredible hit rate. “He cops a hard time if he doesn’t win. Even if we give a perfect lead out and he loses by a tyre, people would be like ‘you lost, what happened? What went wrong?'”
“It didn’t happen overnight at HTC. Sometimes you have to give it time and be patient: good things come to those who wait.”
Sutton wins Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne