Not much time today, but here are the three riders I see as having the best chances of keeping the defending E3 champ’s feet (and perhaps more importantly, hands) off the podium tomorrow.
Sep Vanmarcke (Team LottoNL-Jumbo)
If his performances in the Omloop and Strade Bianche are any indication, Vanmarcke is ready to dominate the cobbled Classics over the next three weekends. He raced Tirreno then skipped Milan-San Remo last weekend (which means he’s rested and healthy); and he spent his time wisely doing recon rides over key sections of the courses for Flanders and Roubaix (which should further boost his confidence). Some might say that Vanmarcke could try and save himself for Flanders and Roubaix–or mask his good form with a quiet showing tomorrow. But as Boonen and Cancellara have shown several times in the past, there’s no reason to hide good legs when you have them. With three top-5 finishes in the last four editions, he’s the top favorite for tomorrow.
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)
Tomorrow is Thomas’s first cobbled Classic of the season, but don’t let that trick you into discounting his chances. One of the more consistent E3 contenders in recent history, the Welshman has finished 3rd and 4th in the last two years and clearly is at the top of his game following outstanding rides in Paris-Nice and Milan-San Remo. He’ll also benefit from a strong team containing Roubaix-hopeful Ian Stannard, former podium-finisher Bernhard Eisel, and the up-and-coming Luke Rowe. A win tomorrow would put Thomas near the top of the list of favorites for next Sunday’s Tour of Flanders–if he can hold onto his good form for that long.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC)
Knowing that he wasn’t going to defeat the likes of John Degenkolb, Alexander Kristoff, and Michael Matthews on the Via Roma in Sunday’s Milan-Sanremo, Van Avermaet did the only he could have done: he attacked. Unfortunately, Milan-San Remo isn’t a race that rewards such tactics anymore.
With so many favorites for tomorrow, Van Avermaet needs to play a bit of poker in the finale. If he needs a lesson, he can go back and watch how Cancellara handled himself in the final 10km of last year’s Ronde, a race which is coincidentally the best performance ever recorded by Van Avermaet in a Classic.
Other Riders to Watch: Niki Terpstra (EQS), Zdenek Stybar (EQS), Fabian Cancellara (TFR), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Soudal), Edward Theuns (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise)