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Comment: Geraint Thomas leading Team Sky into all-conquering new era

Welshman's E3 Harelbeke win raises hopes of Monument success this spring

Geraint Thomas capped a near-perfect day for Team Sky by winning at E3 Harelbeke, soloing to one of the biggest wins of his road racing career and ending the team’s long wait for a WorldTour cobbled Classics win.

Thomas’ victory came hot on the heels of news Ben Swift had won stage two of the Coppi e Bartali in the rain, while world number one Richie Porte pulled on the leader’s jersey of the Volta a Catalunya, before going on to claim overall victory two days later.

Geraint Thomas, Team Sky, 2015, Milan-San Remo, pic: Sirotti
Geraint Thomas is leading Team Sky into their all-conquering new era after a stunning start to the season (pic: Sirotti)

As the Australian celebrated his second overall victory of the season on Sunday – after starring alongside Thomas at Paris-Nice earlier this month – the Welshman was back on the podium himself, too, finishing third in the wind at Gent-Wevelgem.

And it could get even better for Britain’s only WorldTour team as they live up to Sir Dave Brailsford’s pre-season target of season-long domination.

As one era comes to an end, with Sir Bradley Wiggins departing after Paris-Roubaix, a new one has started with a bang with Thomas and Porte well and truly at the fore.

While there are bigger challenges to come this spring for Thomas, with the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix on the horizon, victory at E3 Harelbeke is no mean feat and neither was his third place in treacherous conditions at Gent-Wevelgem.

David Millar was among the riders to tweet congratulations to the Welshman after the former, claiming the race is viewed inside the peloton as being as tough as the two Monuments it precedes.

The huge crash on the Haaghoek, which ended Fabian Cancellara’s spring Classics campaign, showed just how brutal the race can be before the cobbled climbs had even been tackled.

As a marker of Team Sky’s improvements on 12 months ago, Thomas’ victory was the perfect example as he repeated his race-winning attack on the Kwaremont but this time had enough to attack again and leave Zdenek Stybar and defending champion Peter Sagan trailing in his wake.

Showing great resolve to fight the crosswinds, Thomas also had to bounce back from a nasty tumble at the latter, after being blown off his Pinarello, and showed he is as strong as ever as he finished third behind Niki Tersptra and winner Luca Paolini.

Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas, Team Sky, 2015, Paris-Nice, salute, pic: Serge Waldbillig/Sirotti
Richie Porte and Thomas have proved to be a successful double act for Team Sky so far this season (pic: Serge Waldbillig/Sirotti)

On the back of his attack at Milan-San Remo, which could well have come to something were it not for Paolini’s efforts in the bunch, and his efforts at Paris-Nice – finishing second behind Richie Porte on the Chaubouret before the Australian went on to win overall – it has been a stunning start to 2015 for Thomas.

Within that, he has also won the Volta ao Algarve and the odds on him becoming the first Brit to win a Monument since Mark Cavendish’s Milan-San Remo triumph in 2009 are shortening by the day.

It gives Sky options too, with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Ian Stannard and the soon-to-depart Sir Bradley Wiggins also in contention at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

For Wiggins, he is faced with a difficult situation as he may have to sacrifice hopes of leaving Sky in a blaze of glory to support Thomas.

But the key to success in these races is options – Niki Terpstra was far from being Etixx-QuickStep’s bona fide leader at Paris-Roubaix with Tom Boonen alongside him before he accelerated to victory last year.

Team Sky could boast a three-pronged British attack for two of the season’s most eagerly-awaited cobbled Classics and that can only be a good thing.

For Porte, meanwhile, the Giro d’Italia is his major target this year – a race he could start as world number one having extended his lead at the top of the UCI WorldTour rankings in Catalunya.

It was also a big moral victory over Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) ahead of the Giro d’Italia, and proved why Porte is touted as being a serious contender for at least a podium place at the Corsa Rosa.

Ben Swift, Coppi e Bartali, Team Sky, 2015, salute, rain, pic: Sirotti
Ben Swift won a stage at the Coppi e Bartali, on a fine day for Team Sky, and went on to finish second overall (pic: Sirotti)

Those world rankings are reflective of Team Sky’s stunning start to the season too, with Thomas the only man within 150 points of his Australian team-mate.

And all this from two men who have been in the shadow of the likes of Wiggins and Froome in previous years.

Sky have tasted success away from the WorldTour too, with Froome victorious at the Ruta del Sol, Thomas in the Algarve and Ben Swift finishing second overall at the aforementioned Coppi Bartali by just two seconds.

The potential of both Thomas and Porte has always been undoubted, but now they are getting the opportunity to prove themselves and have seized it with both hands.

It is important to preach caution – bigger, more high-profile challenges lie ahead – but it is difficult not to feel a sense of optimism, particularly after Thomas’ E3 Harelbeke victory.

Success breeds success, as they say, and success has certainly not been lacking at Team Sky so far this season.

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