Geraint Thomas & Simon MacMichael mark your card ahead tomorrow's Belgian classics...

Well, the third race in our Fantasy Cycling season is almost upon us, and if
you’ve failed to gather many points yet, don’t despair – last week, meninblack, who missed out on Milan-San Remo altogether, scored a cracking 81 points to move straight into joint 20th place, so it can be done with some wise picks. Here, Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas gives some more of his expert tips on how to get the most out of your team.

If you’ve already made your transfers for Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, don’t worry, because our chat with Geraint also covered Paris-Roubaix. We imagine though that more of you will have held back on finalising your team this week, with anyone who had picked Edvald Boasson Hagen for Gent-Wevelgem cursing their luck following his late withdrawal.

Like last week, Flanders sees none of the GC riders participating. You still need to pick one, mind – but so does everyone else – and the smart move seems to be to select one who doesn’t cost much, freeing up credits to beef up your squad elsewhere.

As Geraint told us in our race preview, Fabian Cancellara is the hot favourite for both races. After his wins in Flanders and Roubaix last year, he’s bidding for an unprecedented double, but can he do it? Plenty of you seem to think so.

We imagine you’ve also made your own minds up about some of the other big names out there – Tom Boonen, Thor Hushovd, Tyler Farrar and Philippe Gilbert – to name but four, but what about the rest of your team?

One tip from Geraint in looking at filling those spaces is to look at which teams are showing good form. “The stronger teams like Rabobank, Sky, Quickstep, Lotto, Leopard, Saxo Bank, they’ve all been on podiums and have all had a good Classics campaign so far, they seem to be going quite strongly,” he explains. “Obviously Garmin-Cervelo as well, they’ve been in all the action too,” he adds.

But they’ll have plenty of competition this Sunday, with the race enjoying such a huge profile in its home country that in some ways, it’s comparable to say a footballer playing in the FA Cup Final at Wembley, with everyone keen to make a mark. “It’s the fact that especially in Belgium, you really want to get up there in Flanders, it’s such a big race, I think it’s how keen everyone is as well,” says Geraint.

Among those riding are a couple of first-year pros who might well make their mark on the Classics in the years ahead, BMC Racings’s Taylor Phinney, winner of the Under-23 Paris-Roubaix 12 months ago, and Rabobank’s Michael Matthews, winner of the Under-23 World Championship Road Race in his native Australia last Autumn. Is it too early in their careers to expect them to do well here?

Geraint suspects it might be a bit of a push for Phinney to challenge right at the top in these two races, but he could still be worth considering for a top 20 place or perhaps a breakaway bonus.

“Phinney can have an impact for sure, but if you’re looking at being up there at the end for a top five result then I think it is a asking too much of him. Obviously the distance and the whole sort of racing from after 160km all the way through to 260km and the teams that are in as well, they’re all going to be working for other guys,” he says. “But if he gets in an early move he could put in a good performance. I wouldn’t say top five but he can definitely make an impact. They’re really talented guys and definitely ones
for the future,” he adds, referring to both Phinney and Matthews.

So who, then, might you also consider? Well, as we’ve said before, current form plus past course and distance are always good indicators, and they paid off for anyone backing FDJ’s Yoann Offredo, who picked up points for anyone choosing him in either Milan-San Remo, Gent-Wevelgem, or both.

“Offredo, that sort of rider, he’s been in there and got the results recently,” agrees Geraint. “Then obviously you’ve got the usual sort of Classics guys as well. George Hincapie, I don’t think many people have talked about him, but he’ll be there or thereabouts.” The BMC Racing rider certainly has a history of strong performances in both races, without managing to get onto the top step of the podium. At 37, is it too late, or is he worth taking a punt on? Your call.

“Then there’s someone like Bernie Eisel, who won Gent-Wevelgem last year,” continues Geraint. “I’m not sure what sort of tactics his HTC-Highroad team
will play, but if he’s given free hand to do what he wants, he’s strong enough to be up there for sure.”

While most would agree that a strong, all-round Classics specialist is likely to be the winner of both Flanders and Roubaix, Geraint cautions that you shouldn’t neglect the sprinters either – after all, even if a four-man break contests the finale, the next man over the line still gets you 16 points.

“Tyler Farrar ran fifth in Flanders last year,” Geraint points out. “He just hung on in there in the main group, and won the bunch sprint, so if Fabian Cancellara say rides off on his own and the groups all merge, he could still podium, for sure.”

And as for the American’s big sprint rival? “Cav’s forms still up in the air a bit, I’m not too sure,” says Geraint. “I think he’s feeling good, I think he’s looking pretty good, but he still hasn’t convinced some people, he hasn’t got that big result yet, but that’s just the situation he’s in now.” In other words, write him off at your peril.

Of course, there’s one name we haven’t mentioned who has won Paris-Roubaix – the junior version – and put in a stunning performance to finish second when the Tour de France passed over that same pavé last year. He’s also showing some pretty decent form this year.

That man, of course, is Geraint himself, and while Juan Antonio Flecha might be Sky’s top pick for both races, the nature of them means that there’s no reason the 24-year-old Welshman might not play a leading role himself in one or both. One thing’s for sure, there will be plenty of British fans out there looking for the national champion’s jersey to go past.

As ever, for the latest news on the races and the riders, check the official websites – you’ll find the Tour of Flanders here, and Paris-Roubaix here – as well as the excellent Cycling Startlists. Looking a little further ahead though, they might want to scrub Riccardo Riccò’s name from Amstel Gold.

Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.