Geraint Thomas will lead team Sky into the cobbled Classics campaign that starts tomorrow in Belgium, with the E3 Harelbeke on March 27, and runs through to Paris-Roubaix on April 12.
Friday’s E3 race is considered mini-Tour of Flanders, which the Welshman is also targeting next Sunday.
“Geraint will be our leader for Friday,” Sports Director Servais Knaven told Cycling Weekly.
“He’s in really good shape, which he showed in Algarve, in Paris-Nice and in San Remo. This is a big hit for him here in the classics.”
E3 Harelbeke covers 215.3 kilometres, and tackles several cobbled sectors and climbs before it ends where it began, in Harelbeke’s main square.
Before the rain seriously started coming down on Thursday morning, Thomas and his team-mates previewed the final 70 kilometres, but skipped the tough Paterberg and Kwaremont climbs so soon before the race.
Thomas is flying through the 2015 season. He won the Volta ao Algarve overall, rode high in Paris-Nice despite a “stupid crash” and led Milan-San Remo in its closing kilometres over the Poggio.
“Hopefully I can make use of [this form],” he said after Milan-San Remo. “Hopefully these next three weeks we can get something.”
Thomas wore several layers riding today to protect lightweight frame from the Flemish wind and 7°C temperatures. Knaven explained that he his star cyclist is light and climbing with the best, but is still a classics man.
“His weight is still good enough to do the classics. He’s a tall guy and for his height, he also goes really well on the climbs. He can climb and has power,” added Knaven
“His goal was to be good in Paris-Nice, you saw that, but his goal now is Flanders, that’s his big hit. He wants to win one of the races here in Flanders, starting tomorrow with E3 Harelbeke.”
Italian Elia Viviani, who was brought in to replace Bradley Wiggins for Harelbeke, will lead the team in Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday.
However, if the bad weather continues over the Flemish fields south of Ghent, Thomas and Ian Stannard could also have an opportunity.
The attention will be on Sky with so many wins already this season, including Stannard’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad victory and the overall in Algarve, Ruta del Sol and Paris-Nice.
On the other hand, team Etixx-Quick Step is without Tom Boonen who is recovering from shoulder surgery and Tinkoff-Saxo is suffering from management problems.
“Last year we were very strong and this year even better. The whole team is riding better, that should help us, that experience and strength,” said Knaven.
“[The other teams] will look more at us to lead than before, that’s a fact. We can carry the responsibility, we already did that in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.”