Team Sky reconnoitred most of Paris-Roubaix’s parcours today in northern France with new sports director and race veteran, Servais Knaven.
“It’s my first time as a DS for this race, I am excited,” said Knaven. “It was good to be back on the course today. It was the first time since I stopped that I wanted to be back on my bike again!”
Dutchman Knaven, who retired last year, equalled the record of most Paris-Roubaix participations when he rode his sixteenth last April. He won the race in 2001 when the conditions were cool, wet and muddy.
The forecast for Sunday is hot, 20°C, and dry, with a wind coming from the west. The conditions are similar to when Australian Stuart O’Grady won in 2007.
“Some classics riders perform best when it is cold, so when it is warm, they are not used to it. It’s similar to when you ride the cobbles in the Tour de France, it always felt different for me than when I did it in April.”
Knaven and sports director Steven De Jongh were out with the eight-man team today. The team drove sectors 21 to 18 and rode from Denain, over the cobbles from Haveluy to Carrefour de l’Arbre, sector four.
The riders tested their Pinarello Kobh frames, wider 27mm tires and gearing: most will use a 53/44 or 46 up front.
Geraint Thomas and Juan Antonio Flecha will lead the team, which also includes Brad Wiggins, Ian Stannard, Jeremy Hunt, Kurt-Asle Arvesen, Matt Hayman and Michael Barry.
Barry arrived to replace Edvald Boasson Hagen, who crashed and fractured his ribs in the Scheldeprijs race on Wednesday.
“Thomas won the race as a junior. He has a feeling for the cobbles, he knows where to ride and has the right position… With some experience, he can be at the front, I’m sure about it,” continued Knaven.
“Wiggins may try to go in an early break. It just depends on how the race goes at the start, then we will make the tactics for the final. It’s hard to say now, before the race, that’s why the communication is important during it.”
Organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) changed the last 120 kilometres of the 256.5-kilometre race. They utilized sectors Aulnoy-lez-Valenciennes (km 142.5) and Famars (km 146) ahead of the famous Arenberg Forest.
Right after the Arenberg Forest, they included the 2400-metre long Milonfosse sector.
“The two new ones before Arenberg are not easy, the cobbles are bad and one is slightly uphill. However, it’s pretty far from there to the finish, 120 kilometres.
“I don’t expect them to attack there, but its going to make the race harder, especially if you are not in the front group. However, I expect the decision will be made later in the race,” he continued.
“The one after Arenberg is not too bad, actually. It’s a bit of a pity they took out some longer sections after Arenberg.”
Knaven said, like the Tour of Flanders with Hunt, Sky will aim to put a rider in the early escape. He wants to see a bigger escape group than the Flanders’ five, one with around 10 to 15 with two Sky riders.
Having the riders in front will allow Sky to play for the win from an escape or order a rider to drop back to help Thomas and Flecha.
Canadian Michael Barry leads Geraint Thomas over the cobbles as Team Sky check out the route ahead of Sunday’s race. Picture by Graham Watson
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Spring Classics 2011: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index