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'This could be the year' - Team Sky eye Classics Season with anticipation

Happy with how things have gone in Australia, Team Sky are looking to come away from the Classics with something to show for their efforts

An aggressive series of performances on top of a long Australian training block has seen Team Sky reap big rewards in the final race of the Australian early season calendar, the Herald Sun Tour.

Team Sky emerged with two stage wins from five, the overall win, the young rider's jersey and the mountains jersey after a series of Classics-like manoeuvres put them in positions to dominate the race.

Arguably the biggest positive out of the tour has been the cohesion between the riders, many of whom will back up and form the core of the Team Sky squad at the Cobbled Classics.

'To win the last stage was really the icing on the cake,' said Team Sky sports director Brett Lancaster after the final stage, which was a bunch sprint win for Kristoffer Halvorsen.

'It was a really successful week, I don’t think we were out of the top three the entire week, we won two stages and a few jerseys so no complaints.'

It hasn’t been the most conventional of squads that Team Sky nominated for the Australian races, traditionally punchy riders and sprinters are more suited to excelling at races like the Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.

Instead the team have a bunch of riders more often seen battling the elements in the early season classics with riders like Luke Rowe, Owain Doull, Dylan van Baarle and Christian Knees all expected to line-up at races like the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

Lancaster was very positive when asked to evaluate his charges. 'Luke Rowe is super, super strong. Dylan van Baarle as well, he’s five kilos lighter than he was this time last year.

'He’s really on a diet and is still producing the same power. He’ll be banging on the door for Flanders this year.'

Van Baarle graced the top step of the podium after an audacious early move on a hilly stage, that also contained Rowe and Knees, upset the order on the General Classification, toppling Michael Woods (Education First) and Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo).

The Dutchman has been very impressive in recent years in some of the toughest races of the Classics season, in particular the Tour of Flanders.

Since his pelvic fracture at the 2018 Vuelta a Espana, a rejuvenated Van Baarle has returned to racing with renewed vigour.

'I’ve always believed in a good recovery,' said the rider. 'Of course, it’s super special to wear the yellow jersey and after what happened last year, I just tried to forget and move on.'

The focus is very much into the future for Van Baarle, who has unfinished business with the Belgian races after a below-par season in 2018.

A win in the Herald Sun Tour is a positive step for the Dutchman in a contract year, but he will be looking for further top-level results in races like the Tour of Flanders.

'It’s still far away of course,' said Van Baarle. 'But this gives me a confidence boost and also for the team, I think we rode really well. The guys are already in good shape. We are on a good level. I think the Classics will be nice to race.'

Team Sky have been a constant menace to the peloton in the Australian block of racing, threatening to split the race in the crosswinds, sending riders up the road and not afraid to use some of their biggest names in long-range moves.

'That’s how the Classics are raced, so we have to race like this there,' said Van Baarle. 'This race especially, you can get the feeling of the Classics here.'

A happy sports director is a hard feat to achieve, but Lancaster was pleased not only with the results from the race, but with the new year training camp and the process that had got the riders to the heightened level they currently enjoy.

Even diminutive climber Kenny Elissonde played a team role during the final stage of the Herald Sun Tour, pegging a strong break of eight riders at fifty seconds advantage on a largely flat course for forty kilometres of racing.

'Most of them are Classic riders; we might even pull Kenny Elissonde in as he was good on the flat today,' Lancaster joked.

'They’ll go forward now. I’m off to France now in La Provence with Owain, he’ll be going there for the time-trial to build into the Classics.'

Few will judge the success of Team Sky on early season results in Australia, and the team are fully aware that the big tests of the season are still to come.

They will be put in better stead by the early season racing block and Lancaster put voice to an optimism that Team Sky will break a bit of a hoodoo that has surrounded previous Classics campaigns.

'They’re in high spirits,' Lancaster said of his riders. 'It’s a long month you know, even on 26th December they were training with Tim Kerrison (Team Sky’s head coach) up in Queensland.

'It’s a long time away from home, a lot of different hotel beds, but they’ve enjoyed the block.

'You’ve got to be aggressive in the Classics, that’s for sure. We’re looking forward to it, the boys are in really good shape and that’s always promising but the Classics are never easy to win and of course, QuickStep, they’re the masters at it.

'We haven’t quite established ourselves so much there yet, but this could be the year.'

Much has been made about the ‘boring’ style of racing that Team Sky has utilised to win Grand Tours, but the Classics require a certain kind of panache and daring to take victory. This new-look Team Sky has certainly displayed that on the roads of Australia.