Team Sky's classic squad continues improving and developing despite falling short once again in yesterday's Ghent-Wevelgem.
"Everybody knows the classics can go either way, from winning, to doing really well," Sky Performance Manager Rod Ellingworth explained yesterday. "I think that's the beauty of the classics. It's that sort of diversity in terms of what happens on the day."
Ellingworth stood on the side of the road in Wevelgem. Geraint Thomas felt a little sick and was already in, but Ellingworth waited for the rest of Sky's classic squad to roll in with the cold air.
Bernhard Eisel smiled despite a lost opportunity.
From the winning group of 11 riders, Eisel placed seventh. The 2010 race winner, and no one else, could stop Peter Sagan (Cannondale) from riding clear with two kilometres to the line in Wevelgem.
His performance followed a strong team ride. Also in Milan-San Remo and E3 Harelbeke, the first two classics this year, Sky voluntarily took the race in hand.
Their work has not delivered a win, but produced some decent results. Ian Stannard made the winning move in San Remo, Geraint Thomas chased in the group behind Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) in E3 Harelbeke and yesterday Eisel fought 60 kilometres with Sagan.
Sky's 2013 classics results so far: Milan-San Remo (sixth), E3 Harelbeke (fourth) and Ghent-Wevelgem (seventh)
"We're just missing out on the podium, really," Ellingworth explained. "So the guys are there. They're doing a good job. I think they're being very consistent every race.
"The odds are pretty good on Bernie getting a decent result in that group. But with Sagan there? That was a good move from him."
Ellingworth said that the team failed to be more aggressive earlier in the race. He added, "It was frustrating."
'Guys in every race'
Servais Knaven rubbed his bare hands to keep them warm in the frigid temperatures. He and Kurt Arvesen are the team's two classics sports directors, both are former riders.
The Dutchman knows the importance of having a strong team. In 2001, he benefited from Domo-Farm Frites' strength in numbers to ride clear and win Paris-Roubaix.
It is comforting to know how far Sky has come since its debut in 2010. In that short time, it went from one-dimensional, mostly with Juan Antonio Flecha (now with Vacansoleil-DCM), to multidimensional.
This year, Sky counts on four to five leaders, including Eisel, Thomas, Stannard, Mat Hayman and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
"We had four to five guys last year in Roubaix, and that was the only race, but now we have four or five guys in every race," Knaven said.
"[The classics team] has developed, the guys get more and more experience and become better and better, but it's not like you do this in one week or one month, or one winter. It takes time. One day we will be there [winning]."
Flanders and Roubaix
The Tour of Flanders on Sunday and Paris-Roubaix the following week are the only two big classics remaining for Sky's classics team. It brings in a mix of stage racers, including Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, for the Ardennes Classics in mid-April.
Ellingworth, Knaven and Arvesen will meet with their riders over the coming days at Sky's classics base in Kortrijk.
"We'll make a good plan for Sunday. The aim will be to win the race. For sure, we can win the race. It can be G, it can be Edvald, it can be Mathew, it can be Ian, it can be Bernie. Why not?" Knaven added.
"It's a 260km bike race. If you all wait until the Kwaremont and Paterberg, then maybe it's too late, but there's another 240km before that. We have to make a plan."
Knaven stepped into the bus after chatting. Eisel wrapped himself with thicker clothes and sat in the team car. After 10 minutes, the Sky caravan rolled always towards Kortrijk, where they will plan ahead of the next two stops in Flanders and Roubaix.
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