Tour of Flanders 2015 preview: Can Geraint Thomas lead Team Sky to glory?

Sunday's race, the 99th edition, looks like being the most open in years

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The Independent Online

This Sunday, the world’s best cyclists will gather to combat the hallowed cobbled climbs of the Tour of Flanders, the historic centrepiece of the Belgian classics and one of the sport's five 'monuments', its most prestigious one-day races.

Despite five years of consistent wins, including two glorious Tour de France victories, success in the one-day classics has always eluded Team Sky. However, thanks to a stellar spring campaign and the exceptional form of Geraint Thomas, the 99th edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen looks like the team's best chance yet.

Thomas, who won two Olympic golds on the track at Beijing and London, is finally fulfilling his enormous potential on the road. There were indications that he was becoming a classics contender last season, with an eighth-place at Flanders and seventh at Paris-Roubaix. This spring, the Welshman has been the form of his life, following a superb solo win at the E3-Harelbeke with a strong third-place at Gent-Wevelgem.

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Thomas threw down the gauntlet with his win at the E3-Harelbeke (AFP)

With Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara, who boast six Ronde victories between them, both absent through injury, we look ahead at Team Sky’s chances and the rivals that stand in their way.

Can Sky propel Thomas to glory?

Having the strongest rider doesn’t always guarantee victory. However, Thomas can count on the support of a unit that after years of misfiring finally looks capable of delivering classics success. His key lieutenant will be Ian Stannard, who has been strong throughout the spring and took a wonderful win at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Bernard Eisel is a seasoned campaigner on the cobbles and an astute road captain, while Bradley Wiggins’ time trial win at the Three Days of De Panne indicated he is coming into form at just the right time. The absence of Cancellara and Boonen opens up the race, so teams should be more willing to share the workload, relieving some of the pressure on Sky.

Who will be their main threat?

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Etixx-QuickStep have been repeatedly thwarted by Sky this spring (AFP)

Throughout the spring Sky have been embroiled in a fierce rivalry with the Etixx-QuickStep, a Belgian team geared towards success on the cobbles, and have so far had the upper hand. At the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Stannard embarrassed the three Quickstep riders with whom he'd formed a breakaway, while Zdenek Stybar had to be content with second behind Thomas at E3-Harelbeke. Victory at Flanders will banish any memory of these setbacks. Stybar will again be a real threat, while Niki Terpstra, who won Paris-Roubaix last year, ensures the team present a potent double-threat.

Anyone else to look out for?

He looked short of form at E3-Harelbeke, where he was powerless to respond to Thomas's devastating final attack, but write Peter Sagan off at your peril. The Slovakian was second in 2013, and will be desperate to take the race to a bunch finish to give him the best chance of a long-awaited first monument win. Alexander Kristoff is another who Sky will be hoping to avoid in a sprint, while Sep Vanmarcke will hope to capitalise on the injuries to Boonen and Cancellara, who have consistently pipped him in recent years.

Where can you watch it?

Live on Eurosport from 11.30-16:15, with highlights on Eurosport 2 19:00-20:30

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