Olympic champion ready for Ronde assault

Geraint Thomas is confident late replacement Bradley Wiggins will slot smoothly into Sky’s classics squad ahead of Sunday’s Tour of Flanders.

Thomas is set to lead the outfit at the second Monument of the season that Wiggins was drawn from the reserve list for following Ian Stannard’s crash at last week’s Gent-Wevelgem.

Paris-Roubaix hopeful Stannard fractured a thoracic vertebra when he landed in a ditch at the semi-classic. The Het Nieuwsblad champion’s absence will be felt at the gritty Flanders epic this weekend.

“After breakfast he’s the one that I’m sort of left with just chatting, chilling with another coffee when everyone else goes off,” Thomas joked with seven journalists at a relaxed press conference in Kortrijk today. “No, I think he will be missed because he’s one of the strongest guys for the classics anyway. He was a key guy for us but Brad is just as strong, you know, positioning wise and things. Whether he can be there when it matters we’ll soon see.”

Flanders is an addition to Wiggins’s schedule, which initially only included Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs as well as Paris-Roubaix that he is said to have high hopes for.

The strength in numbers tactic Sky employed at Het Nieuwsblad, in which Edvald Boasson Hagen, who also spoke to press today, finished third, has become a model for the team. Thomas emphasised the importance of it multiple times when talking race strategy and how to weaken defending champion Fabian Cancellara (Trek) as well as race favourites Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and young prodigy Peter Sagan (Cannondale).

“As long as you’ve got a teammate up the road you’ve always got that excuse to sit on,” Thomas said. “But they know that as well so they’re going to race accordingly.”

Thomas will make his fourth career appearance at the Ronde on Sunday and experience, as with anyone, will be a key factor in this 2014 campaign.

Sky is without skilled classics veteran Mathew Hayman, who transferred to Orica-GreenEdge at the end of last year. However, Thomas has benefited from his own experience as well as that of the Australian. The British squad can also call on the knowledge Austrian captain Bernhard Eisel.

“I think doing the recon [on Thursday] was the first time I really had an idea of where it was,” Thomas said of the 260km course.

“It takes a few years because there’s so many lefts and rights and a little climb here and descent there. When Hayman was in the team he was always talking about, ‘we do the descent in E3, we go up that now, we take that left here, instead of that right in Nieuwsbald’.

“You’re like, ‘how the hell did you know all of that?’ But the more you race here the more you get dialed into it and know where you are. That makes a big difference as well.”

Thomas finished third at E3-Harelbeke, which is popularly considered a Flanders test event, last weekend, putting the hammer down on the Kwaremont in a decisive move that helped determine the final race selection.

The 27-year-old may employ a similar “spontaneous” tactic on Sunday.

“In Paris-Nice on [stage four] where I was second to [Tom] Slagter [in a two-up sprint] I just went because, I didn’t even think about it, I just went,” he said. “In E3 as well, it was the same on the Kwaremont. I felt okay so I just thought, why not? Go and see what happens.

“You know the little window of where you really need to be in front, switch on and see how it goes from there.”

Sky also has a podium contender in Boasson Hagen should the race come back together at the finish.