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‘Support and trust’ carrying Boasson Hagen along

MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — Edvald Boasson Hagen’s dream start in the Middle East has looked like a perfect lead-in to his 2016 classics campaign so far. Never has he won so often and so soon into a season, a success made possible by “support and trust,” says his Dimension Data team.

The 28-year-old out-sprinted a small group at the end of the Tour of Oman’s fifth stage Saturday in front of Muscat’s Ministry of Tourism. When he stood waiting for the podium, where the announcer called him “Mister Hagen,” he had some time to think about what has happened already this year: one stage win in the Tour of Qatar last week and now two in its sister race, the Tour of Oman.

“He has the confidence of the entire team behind him,” said team sports director Roger Hammond. “We had a guy [Jacques Janse Van Rensburg] in front today and could’ve let him ride for second, we didn’t. We asked Jack to stop riding because Eddy was coming across. Edvald knows he has the support and trust of the team.”

From Oman, the 28-year-old will travel back home to Lillehammer, Norway before the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in Italy. The “support and trust” will follow through to the classics, from Milano-Sanremo to Paris-Roubaix — races where Boasson Hagen will lead the South African team.

“It’s the goal to be up there in the classics. That’s what I hope,” Boasson Hagen said. “I hope to do well in any classic, but my main goal and my dream is to win Roubaix. Any classic, though, would be nice.”

Roger Hammond hovered near the winner’s podium and talked at greater length than the often-reserved Boasson Hagen. The Brit raced through 2011 and placed third in the 2004 Paris-Roubaix and fourth in 2010.

“It’s easier to say which classics he can’t do, not Liège-Bastogne-Liège nor Flèche Wallonne. He has the capability to win all of them,” Hammond said. “It won’t happen obviously … Well, I hope I’m wrong. He’s in a good situation now. We have to look after him and have him hold his form.”

Boasson Hagen rose quickly to cycling stardom as a young rider when he signed for Columbia-Highroad several years ago. In 2009, the year he turned 22, he won Gent-Wevelgem, a stage in the Giro d’Italia, and the overall in the Tour of Britain. Moving to Team Sky for the 2010 through 2014 seasons, he won two Tour de France stages, but became quickly overshadowed by grand tour stars Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. He did not register a single win in 2014.

It took Dimension Data, last year called MTN-Qhubeka, to rebuild the star rider who had seemed to lose his way with Great Britain’s super team. Hammond would not predict what is possible in the upcoming classics Boasson Hagen has in his sights: Milano-Sanremo, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and Paris-Roubaix.

Perhaps he has reason not to do so. Boasson Hagen won Gent-Wevelgem in 2009, but he has only ever finished as high as ninth in any of the other races. In 2013, he supported Geraint Thomas in E3 Harelbeke and placed ninth behind Fabian Cancellara. His top Milano-Sanremo result was a 10th-place last year, and 17th in the 2013 Ronde was a his best finish there.

His confidence is higher and the team is stronger this 2016 season. In Sanremo, he will be able to share the load with former winner Mark Cavendish. In the cobbled classics, the team will give him protected leader status with seasoned helpers Bernhard Eisel and American Tyler Farrar.

“Good bike riders feed off that support and trust,” added Hammond, “that’s where Eddy is at the moment.”