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Pre-Classics Check In - Who's Where?

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After the February races which may or may not be part of the - quote - "proper" cycling season, I look at where a few riders stand going into the upcoming important races.

Kristoff dominated the sprints in Qatar. There he is winning stage four, with leadout man Guarnieri in third place,
Kristoff dominated the sprints in Qatar. There he is winning stage four, with leadout man Guarnieri in third place,
ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images

Alexander Kristoff:

February Results: It's quite a list. Tour of Qatar stages 2, 4 and 5. The Tour of Qatar points classification. Tour of Oman stages 3 and 6.

Breakdown: Kristoff and Katusha have really made a statement in the middle east, beating Cavendish three times out of four in flat sprints, and performing fantastic lead outs to get great 1-3 finishes. Kristoff definitely looks in form.

Forecast: I don't expect him to win Het Nieuwsblad, but the Kuurne donkey already has his name on it. A stage or two at Paris-Nice should set him up for a shot at Milan-Sanremo. As good a season as last year is on the cards for the Norwegian. (But don't blame me, it's your 36 points to spend).

Kristoff isn't a mystery, you know what you're going to get - a guy who can get win all year round, but especially in March and April. His season has had a perfect start.

Edvald Boasson Hagen

That is not a name I expected to find myself writing a month ago.

February Results: Tour of Qatar stage 3, Tour of Oman stages 2 and 5. 5th in Qatar GC, falling from first after puncturing twice. Top ten on Green Mountain. Sixth in Tour of Oman. Tour of Oman points classification.

Breakdown: What can I say? Without using the words "new," "Eddy," and "Merckx," I mean. He rode perfectly in Qatar, taking out the time trial, with only luck preventing him from taking home the leader's jersey. His race in Oman was arguably even better. He sprinted well and climbed fantastically. Green Mountain is a really tough climb, and to get a top ten there is super riding.

Forecast: This is a minefield, now isn't it. It's easy to say jokingly that HE'S BACK ON FORM AND HE'S AMAZING AND HE'S GOING TO WIN ROUBAIX AND A BARGAIN AT TWICE THE PRICE, but...here's a list of the people who rode well in Oman and Qatar last year and didn't deliver afterwards: Pozzato, Guardini, Arredondo, Jacques Janse Van Rensburg and Bennett. I wasted twelve points on some of that lot. I don't think it's possible to predict what he will and won't do this season, but even casting an optimistic eye on his results, think of the guy in the peloton that can do most of what he's done, the guy who won the Tour of California despite the presence of a huge mountain, the guy who could have probably done everything Boasson Hagen has done. Yep, it's Peter Sagan. Speaking of which...

Peter Sagan's Classics Support

February Results: Ruta del Sol stages 1 (Bennati), and 3 (Gatto).

Breakdown: Tinkoff as a team are not associated with the phrase "strength in depth." Where Sky have a dozen (I've counted) riders capable of winning stage races, Tinkoff have Contador, Sagan, maybe Majka, and possibly Kreuziger as their reliable riders. Sagan has mostly had to fend for himself in the classics. Sagan finished fourth in the Tour of Flanders last year, seven minutes faster than the next Tinkoff-Saxo rider to finish. However, things might be looking up. The team have lost Matti Breschel, with all the problems that entails, but they have gained the services of Adam Blythe and Oscar Gatto. They also have Daniele Bennati, who missed most of the classics due to a broken arm. All of the three have performed well, the two Italians getting over climbs and sprinting to victory, while Blythe had a good Tour Down Under.

Forecast: You can count on a rainbow-equipped Peter Sagan to be on form for the classics, and this time he might have a strong team behind him. Him vs Kristoff vs Whoever else turns up will be an interesting battle.

Fabian Cancellara

February Results: Volta ao Algarve stage 3. He also won the toughest Mallorca challenge race in January.

Breakdown: Cancellara has focussed less and less on TTs in recent years, not even contesting the world championship for the past two years, but he has still won races against the clock, in races like Tirreno-Adriatico, and again this week in the Volta ao Algarve. He is climbing well, too. It's his last season - can he contest the classics one more time?

Forecast: Yes. I've always felt he had one more season in him. This is his final go at the classics and I expect him to win one of Roubaix or Flanders.

Vincenzo Nibali

February Results: Tour of Oman, stage four. Tour of Oman GC.

Breakdown: Nibali looked untouchable at the Tour of Oman. He coasted through most of the stages before gapping everyone for an easy win on Green Mountain. He's comfortably the most on-form big.

Forecast: Nibali is going to win the Giro, I don't think there's a great deal of doubt about that. Will he do anything afterwards? The Olympics is his other stated goal, but...that's not happening, because he can't outsprint anyone.

Marcel Kittel

February Results: Dubai Tour stages 1 and 4. Dubai Tour GC. Dubai Tour points classification. Volta ao Algarve stages 1 and 4. Volta ao Algarve points classification.

Breakdown: Kittel has shown the other sprinters a clean pair of heels so far. Even Greipel and Cavendish have never gotten the better of him so far this season. He certainly seems to have recovered from whatever is was that kept him out of contention last year, and is regarded as the favourite for sprint success this season.

Forecast: More of the same. He is the fastest sprinter in cycling, and should win stages of the Tour and Giro.

Alberto Contador

February Results: Volta ao Algarve stage 5.

Breakdown: "Contador's heading for a disappointing final season and is way off form," was the slightly early cry after stage two of the Volta ao Algarve, where Alberto Contador lost twenty-four seconds to Luis Leon Sanchez, finishing twenty-first on an altogether gentle climb. However, he bounced back well on the final stage of the race, taking twenty from everyone else with a victory there. Twenty seconds is a large amount on a 2.5 kilometre climb, I'd suggest watching out for Contador in other early-season races.

Forecast: He won't win the Tour, I'm convinced enough of that. Perhaps a podium finish. Then maybe a shot at the Vuelta.

Sky's Grand Tour Train

February Results: Here we go...Volta a Communitat Valenciana stages 1 and 4 (Poels), Volta a Communitat Valenciana GC, points classification and mountains classification, (Poels), Herald Sun Tour stage 1 (Kennaugh), Herald Sun Tour stage 4 (Froome), Herald Sun Tour GC and mountains classification (Froome).

Breakdown: Sicknesses aside, Sky have had an ideal start to the season, with important members of Chris Froome's Tour de France team taking victories. While Poels did fall back on the final stage of the Ruta del Sol, he was the strongest in Valencia. Froome himself won on Arthur's Seat in Australia.

Forecast: Froome is still the favourite for the Tour de France, and his team will be behind him all the way. And beside him. And in front of him. Probably holding cushions.