Team Sky enters the heart of its cobbled classics campaign without the benefits of a high-altitude training camp. The classics team "felt best" racing in March instead of repeating last year's experimental trip to Tenerife.
"The riders felt best with [not returning]," sports director, Servais Knaven told Cycling Weekly. "We talked about having an altitude camp but in the end, it was maybe too much with the racing calendar."
Last year, like its Grand Tour riders, the classics team including Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard travelled to Tenerife off Africa's west coast to train at 2165 metres. Their bodies benefited from the air and specific training but in exchange, they missed racing in Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico.
"It was a really good experiment, everyone was really happy and in good form. It was worth trying," Knaven added. "I'm sure it works but on the other hand, they are classics guys and want to race. They don't want to miss Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico. They don't really need it because an altitude camp has a similar effect and could be even better, but it's in your head, you want to race when you are at altitude."
Sky's classics riders except Salvatore Puccio went to Tenerife in 2013. In 2014, however, they skipped the trip in favour of racing miles.
"We feel we didn't get the training that wrong last year, but we refined a few things," Tim Kerrison, Sky's head coach, said this winter. "Training at 2000 metres is not required for the classics. Some of the guys for the classics team didn't thrive in that environment. For some of the bigger classics guys, that mountainous environment just doesn't suit them. We also wanted to get them more race days before the classics."
Last year, Sky raced the opening classics weekend, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, and jetted to Tenerife until days before Milan-San Remo.
Stannard won Omloop this year and kept racing towards today's E3 Harelbeke in Flanders, Belgium. He participated in Italy's Tirreno-Adriatico with Bradley Wiggins and Bernhard Eisel. Another group raced in France at Paris-Nice, where Thomas led the race before crashing out.
Knaven look over to the team bus where the riders stepped out to the fans and for the start of E3 Harelbeke. He has a good idea of what they need to win because he race for 17 years and in 2001, won Paris-Roubaix.
"Some guys need more racing to be 100% ready to race – both physically and mentally," said Knaven. "Classics are different than stage races, here you have to ready from the gun, in a stage race, the first day could be flat and you could sit in the peloton. If you miss something today, then you won't be close to the podium."
Ian Stannard becomes first British winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad after out-sprinting Greg Van Avermaet
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