Luke Rowe‘s fifth place in the Tour of Flanders on Sunday was the best British performance since Tom Simpson and Barry Hoban in the 1960s. Ahead of Paris-Roubaix, Rowe says it was “massive” to race so well in Belgium.
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“I’ve done four of these so far and this is the most difficult one so far for me,” Rowe said in Oudenaarde with the Flemish grit still showing on his face.
“A big step forward? For me personally, that was a pretty big ride, that was massive for me. I’m happy.”
Simpson won Belgium’s Monument in 1961, 55 years ago, and placed third in 1963. Top 10s followed infrequently since.
Rowe’s result was the best since Hoban’s fifth in 1967. Hoban also placed seventh in 1969. Max Sciandri rode to ninth in 1995 and seventh in 2001. Roger Hammond placed seventh in 2010. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), who rode to 12th on Sunday, took 10th in 2011 and eighth in 2014.
Rowe says that he is stronger than ever in 2016. He placed fourth in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad at the end of February and in Ghent-Wevelgem last Sunday, he just missed the winning group with Peter Sagan and placed 22nd.
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In the Three Days of De Panne, he placed fifth in the opening stage and matched it yesterday. The recent rides bode well for Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.
“I haven’t held back here,” Rowe said. “Nothing’s going to change and the form I have now, will be the form I’m going to have next week.”
In the ‘Hell of the North’ over France’s cobbled farm roads to Roubaix, Sky’s leadership will change. Instead of riding in the second string, Rowe will lead the team with Ian Stannard.
Former world champion Kwiatkowski led Sky yesterday with Thomas as a second option. Kwiatkowski made the move that pulled out eventual winner Sagan at 32.5km to race. However, on the Kwaremont climb 15km later, Kwiatkowski drifted behind Sagan.
“I felt that I was missing something on the Taaienberg, so I decided to move soon because I was sure I wouldn’t be able to follow Fabian Cancellara on the Kwaremont or Paterberg,” Kwiatkowski said.
“I tried to do something different. It was a nice move, but in the end, I wasn’t able to keep Peter’s wheel. Being in this move, being without energy is nothing to be happy about. We tried to win this race with team Sky.”
After a regrouping behind, Rowe said that Sky gave him the green light to try for fourth place. He took fifth and confidence needed for Scheldeprijs on Wednesday and the big one, Paris-Roubaix, on Sunday.