Flecha’s Roubaix ride applauded by Team Sky’s Sunderland
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Monday, April 12, 2010

Flecha’s Roubaix ride applauded by Team Sky’s Sunderland

by Conal Andrews at 6:23 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Paris-Roubaix

The team undoubtedly started the race dreaming of success but, in the end, the third place attained by Juan Antonio Flecha was Team Sky’s best result in Paris-Roubaix. Given Fabian Cancellara’s dominance and some soft pedalling by Hushovd when his Cervélo team-mate Roger Hammond was chasing behind, directeur sportif Scott Sunderland was keen to applaud the Spaniard’s efforts.

"It was an awesome ride. You couldn't ask for more - he did everything he could,” he explained.

On the basis of Cancellara’s superb solo win last week in the Tour of Flanders, his Olympic time trial title and his multiple world TT championship gold medals, it was clear that any gap would be very hard to close. The big Swiss rider accelerated with 50 kilometres to go and caught the other favourites out; they missed his initial burst and, thanks to a lack of cooperation and horsepower, were simply unable to get back on terms.

Sunderland said that the gap had to be closed quickly. "It was hovering at 25 or 30 seconds for a while and the peloton had to get him back at that point,” he stated. “But that didn't happen and it quickly went 45 seconds, then a minute and shot upwards after that.

"We then realised that Flecha would soon be riding for second and I said to him 'you've got one more chance to go for it and try and bridge the gap but if that doesn't work out, then we're riding for a place on the podium'.

"That was the reality. You have to accept that and readjust and that's what he did."

Of those riding yesterday, Flecha has one of the best track records in the event. Since 2005 he has been one of the most consistent, with placings of third, fourth, second, sixth and third again.

He was one of the most aggressive riders behind Cancellara, jumping clear several times. "He went out and attacked on sector six but they pulled him back. So he attacked again on the Carrefour de l'Arbre, and though he didn't get away by himself, that proved decisive as he and Thor Hushovd opened up a gap on the rest. It was a good result,” said Sunderland.

Cancellara streets ahead

Sometimes it’s clear that one rider is head and shoulders above the rest. That was the case last week in Flanders and again yesterday in Roubaix. Cancellara is in perhaps the best shape of his career and would probably have won no matter where he made his move.

Sunderland worked with him in the past while part of the CSC/Saxo Bank setup. He knows the physical and mental characteristics of the rider, and can recognise that sometimes there’s little other teams can do.

“I was with Cancellara when he won his first Paris-Roubaix in 2006. He's got a really good character and when he sets his mind for something he just goes for it 110%,” he said. “He's worked really hard over the winter and you can see the results of that. He was in a league of his own and was untouchable today."

Sunderland heads away from the race recognising that the team performed to the best of their abilities. He said that each of the riders played their roles well, from Kurt-Asle Arvesen’s protecting of Flecha in the early stages to CJ Sutton and Greg Henderson’s infiltration of the early breaks.

Two others were prominent later on and had they not experienced misfortune, they could have helped in the chase of Cancellara or perhaps chased high placings themselves.

"Mathew Hayman and Michael Barry were so good today,” he said. “They were both riding above what they've ever done before in this race but then they both went and got flat tyres.

"Talk about bad luck - they punctured out of contention. They were in the top 15 and then got flat tyres within 5km of each other and we couldn't get spare tyres to them. CJ Sutton gave his wheel to Matt Hayman which helped but Michael wasn't so fortunate. They were never able to get back to that group which was a real shame.

"But for those flat tyres we'd have had two more riders right up there, getting the sort of finishing position their performances deserved."

Next up are the hillier Classics of Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The team is likely to focus on other riders in those, with the stronger climbers coming to the fore. It’s early days in the squad’s existence, but Sunderland and the others are ambitious and will chase wins wherever possible.



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