Geriant Thomas In Drivers Seat Ahead Of Cobbled Classics

Roubaix_2014

Paris, March 31, 2015 (AFP) – Commonwealth Games champion Geraint Thomas
will find himself a marked man over the next two weeks as the peloton tackles
the Tour of Flanders on Sunday and then Paris-Roubaix a week later.

With perennial favourites Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara out injured,
both Flanders and Roubaix will be considered the most open they have been in
years.

Over the last 10 years, the two races have been won by either Boonen or
Cancellara 13 times — and by someone else just seven times.

But Boonen dislocated his collarbone at Paris-Nice in early March while
Cancellara fractured two vertebrae in his back when crashing during the E3
Harelbeke race on Friday.

With the heavyweight pair missing, Thomas won E3 and then took third at
Gent-Wevelgem, behind Italian Luca Paolini and Niki Terpstra of the
Netherlands.

Those two races came just two days apart and for Thomas to be still there
fighting for victory despite the brutal conditions that made Gent-Wevelgem
such an enthralling and chaotic race spoke wonders of his strength and form.

Only four other riders managed to take top 10 finishes in both races but
Sep Vanmarcke, Alexander Kristoff, Jurgen Roelandts and Daniel Oss were not in
contention at the business end of either.

Vanmarcke was part of the six men who contested the victory at
Gent-Wevelgem but when Italy’s Paolini attacked 6km from home, the Belgian did
not have the legs to fight to the end.

He ended up sixth and 40 seconds down, whereas Thomas had the strength to
join Terpstra in trying to hunt down Paolini.

“I’m happy to be on the podium again. Obviously it would have been nice to
go for the win but it’s hard when you’re coming into the final and everyone’s
attacking,” said Thomas after his third placed Gent-Wevelgem finish.

“People were looking at me a bit after my win on Friday. That’s what it
felt like.

“When Paolini went it was a good move for him but we all looked at each
other.”

– man to watch –

Having finished eighth at Flanders last year and seventh at Roubaix, the
Welshman will surely come to the start line of both races as the man to watch.

It has been an incredible rise to prominence at the Spring Classics for
Thomas, who first announced his potential in 2011 when he was 10th at Flanders
and second at the semi-classic Dwars door Vlaanderen.

In 2013 he was fourth at both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3 while last year
he really kicked on.

As well as his high finishes at Flanders and Roubaix and his Commonwealth
title, he was third at E3.

This year his form has been better than ever as he also came fifth overall
at the week-long Paris-Nice.

One of Thomas’s problems in recent years has been a propensity to fall,
although he denies that it comes from not being a good bike handler.

He hit the deck again on Sunday but so did many people. He said his landing
was soft and he doesn’t think it will hamper his preparation for the two
‘Monument’ races coming up.

“The grass was softer that the tarmac! It was unbelievable. The gusts were
incredible. It was hard enough just trying to stay on the bike,” he said.

“I’ll rest up now. Have a good massage, eat well, stay in bed and put my
feet up until Sunday.”

Come Sunday he will have Terpstra, last year’s Roubaix winner, Vanmarcke,
who was top four in both Flanders and Roubaix in 2014, and Stijn Vandenbergh
for company at the very least.

Terpstra and Vandenbergh’s Etixx-Quick Step teammate Zdenek Stybar should
feature too, as will Peter Sagan and maybe even Thomas’s compatriot and Sky
teammate Bradley Wiggins.

A top sprinter who can negotiate the cobbles and short climbs such as John
Degenkolb or Kristoff may also be in the mix, but Thomas will still be the man
on everyone’s lips.

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