Could the difference between Tom Boonen and Peter Sagan come down to the quality of their respective teams on Sunday?
“Team Omega [Pharma] has something over the others,” Sagan told Cycling Weekly yesterday. “It’s a Belgian team, its riders are always here and in training camps on the roads. They know the roads even if the others also specialise in the [cobbled classics].”
Cannondale’s green and black team are relatively new to the classics game. Omega Pharma already delivered Tom Boonen to three Flanders titles and four in Paris-Roubaix. Before that, the Belgian squad worked for Johan Museeuw and Stijn Devolder in Flanders.
In Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne one-day classic at the beginning of March, it attacked 70 kilometres out, put five of its men in the 10-man escape and delivered Boonen to the win. Even with Boonen behind on Friday in E3 Harelbeke, it sent two of its black and white army, Niki Terpstra and Stijn Vandenbergh, away with Sagan and Sky’s Geraint Thomas. Sagan, with strength and a sprint, won regardless.
With such strength in numbers, Omega Pharma’s chances of winning the 259-kilometre race across Flanders increases. If Boonen fails, it has Terpstra. If Terpstra fails, it has Zdenek Stybar.
“Cannondale is a step below, but Sagan makes up for it,” Luca Paolini, Italian journeyman and former rider in the Belgian team, told Cycling Weekly.
“Omega, given it’s a Belgian team, they know all the details of the route, they are very adapted to the roads. Of eight riders, all of them are 100% suited to this race. Maybe Cannondale only has five or six, and maybe those two to three men make the difference.”
However, as Sagan has improved, Cannondale has built up its classics team. Sagan can usually count on Maciej Bodnar, Kristjan Koren, Alan Marangoni and Fabio Sabatini, in the race’s critical moments.
“It’s hard to say that we are at the same level as Omega, but we have a good team. We have riders who know that they have to work and how to get Peter in the best position,” said team sports director, Mario Scirea.
“It’s hard for us to have an extra man in the move when it’s down to five or six riders in the lead. At that point, you have the champions in the race. Peter needs his men there to respond to the attacks earlier, at 20 or 30 kilometres out.”
Bodnar and Marangoni serve greater importance because they ride the same size bike as Sagan. In Harelbeke, Sagan broke his bike 100 kilometres from the finish and took Marangoni’s. He needs these helpers with him as deep as possible into Flanders to not only to help follow attacks, but to provide assistance in the case of a mechanical breakdown.
“It’s a war to always stay in the front spots,” Marangoni said. “You want to be there because the race can change from one minute to the next with a crash or with an escape that might prove important.
“We are not at Omega’s level but we showed last year that we are almost near that level.”
Even if Cannondale might lag behind, Sagan more than makes up for it. Last year, Cancellara dropped him after the Paterberg but he kept going for second place. He won E3 Harelbeke on Friday, placed third in Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday and took the first stage of the Three Days of De Panne yesterday.
“The guys that come here, my group, they are strong and ready to race in Belgium,” Sagan said. “You think with the results that we have had have not shown that already?”