Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) will start Sunday’s Milano-Sanremo with the dream of taking his second victory in the biggest race of the Italian spring. The 31-year-old has the date of his 2006 victory tattooed on the outside of his right arm, “XVIII-III-MMVI” [18th March 2006 – ed]; he finished second to un unstoppable Fabian Cancellara in 2008, and has featured as a protagonist in virtually every edition since.
So far this season ‘Pippo’ has taken a victory in the Trofeo Laigueglia, and finished second in the Roma Maxima [although he initially thought he’d won, and celebrated victory without realising that AG2R La Mondiale’s Blel Kadri had finished 37 seconds before – ed]; he rode a quiet race in Tirreno-Adriatico, however, and pulled out midway through the tough penultimate.
“I started suffering from a light cold, but I got better and better and that allowed me to improve my condition in the way I aimed to,” he explained in a press conference this week. “The race was very useful in view of Milano-Sanremo.
“It’s true that the cold weather and the rain were not the best things for the riders, but I’m satisfied about what I’ve been doing until now,” he added. ”I quit the race in the Porto Sant’Elpidio stage as precaution, I wanted to avoid any relapses.”
Heading into Sanremo, however, Pozzato is confident about his condition, particularly when he compares his lead up to the same time last year.
“My form is good,” he said. “In this early part of the season I’ve been able to well, but only on Sunday evening will I be able to tell if I did everything in the proper way in order to get to the target.
“If I compare the situation to 12 months ago, when I underwent surgery for a broken collarbone, the approach to Milano-Sanremo of this year is much better. I was also able to win one race, and I almost won in Roma-Maxima.”
Having competed against many of the likely favourites for Milano-Sanremo, Pozzato knows full well who his main rivals will be when the race arrives on the Ligurian seafront on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s so difficult to predict the protagonists of this race, the group of possible winners is very large,” he explained. “I could say that [Cannondale’s Peter] Sagan and [RadioShack-Leopard’s Fabian] Cancellara are the favourites, but pay attention to [Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Mark] Cavendish: if there is to be a sprint in Sanremo, he’ll be the number one.
“In Tirreno-Adriatico I was able to study many of the opponents at first hand, then I also took a look to Paris-Nice,” he added. “All of the possible protagonists are pedalling very well.”
Italians flying the flag in the country’s biggest spring race
Aside from Pozzato, Italian hopes will be carried in the race by last year’s third place Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), and rising talent Moreno Moser (Cannondale).
“Nibali is in good condition and if he attacks he could change the course of the race, that could became less suitable for sprinters,” said Pozzato. “Even though I think he’s a very competitive cyclist, I don’t think Moser will have many chances, since a very tough race would be need to see him protagonist.”
The rider to beat on Sunday, however, could well be Sagan. The Slovakian champion finished fourth last year – just two seconds behind the trio of GreenEdge’s Simon Gerrans, Cancellara and Nibali – and, despite being just 23 years of age, is proving himself over the longer distances.
“Sagan is very fast, but despite this he’ll try to eliminate pure sprinters such Cavendish,” said Pozzato. “The hope is that after the limit of 300km he could be less competitive. Last year he suffered very long distances, but I’m aware he’s a champion and he has improved his endurance qualities for sure.”
To win the race Pozzato has a tried and tested tactic that has seen him part of the decisive move in almost every year that it hasn’t been decided by a sprint. He will be looking to do the same again this time around, when the race hits the final climb of the Poggio in the closing kilometres.
“In the latest seven editions, except for one year, I always reached the top of the Poggio in the first five places of the peloton,” he explained. “It could be very good to make a small select group on the Poggio and then to fight for the victory against the members of this group. Anyway, it’s very difficult to plan the proper moves, a little bit of improvisation is needed.”
Rain threatens to dominate la Primavera but Lampre-Merida is prepared to play its part
In recent years Milano-Sanremo has been played out in predominantly fine weather, but the forecast for Sunday’s edition is for rain, and maybe even snow on some parts of the course.
“It could change so much,” said Pozzato of the expected conditions. “First of all, the Cipressa descent will become slippery and, as a consequence, selective. Also, the whole race will be more demanding.
“It will be also important to pay attention to the wind,” he added. “On the Cipressa, if there is a strong wind, some riders will try to attack.”
As ever, the race will be tough to predict, but there is one point – Pozzato predicts – where it will be decided if the race will see a sprint finish or not.
“It’s difficult to predict it, but Le Manie climb could be indicative,” he said of the hill that comes with just under 100km to go. “If it is covered at a high pace, the sprinters will be out, otherwise they’ll be the favourites in Sanremo.”
2013 is Pozzato’s first year at Lampre-Merida, but he is confident that the blue-fuchsia team can be competitive and support him in Sunday’s race.
“I’m very happy with the team,” he said. “I’m sure all the members will be competitive and I appreciated at first hand in Tirreno-Adriatico how they’re in a good condition. I’m aware that in Milano-Sanremo the team is fundamental for support in a perfect way until the key moments.
“It would be perfect to rely on a teammate that raises the pace on Manie, then two riders that could give their support la on Cipressa and eventually join the attacks,” he added. “After the Poggio, your own legs are important.”
One of Pozzato’s teammates will be sprinter Alessandro Petacchi, who won the year before he took his own victory, and will be one of the sprinters fighting it out if the peloton arrives at the finish together. Although they both go into the race with ambition, however, Pozzato is convinced that they can happily coexist.
“We’ve got opposite qualities, but this could be an advantage for the team,” he said. “I think it will be important to plan with the team which kind of race to run.”
After la Classicissima comes Belgium’s Holy Week
As an Italian Classics rider, Milano-Sanremo is one of the races that Pozzato always wants to win and – having won the race once before – he is still desperate to take another victory.
“It’s something special,” he explained. “It’s a childhood dream that I saw on TV, and was able to realise as a rider.
“My feelings about the race are very intense, I have never ridden la Classicissima’s course as many times as I have done this year. Milano-Sanremo for me is the same as “Holy Week” is for the Belgians.”
Following Sanremo Pozzato will head north to Belgium for the races of “Holy Week”, where he hopes to reproduce some of his performances from 2012. A second place in the Ronde van Vlaanderen behind Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Tom Boonen – as the two former teammates arrived at the finish with BMC Racing’s Alessandro Ballan – was the highlight, which he will be looking to reproduce this time around.
“First of all I’ll focus my attention on the Ronde Van Vlaanderen,” Pozzato explained. “It’s an outstanding race, magic atmosphere, but it’s also important to point out that the group of favourites is smaller than in Milano-Sanremo. I think the toughest opponents could be Sagan, Cancellara and Boonen.
“I’m sure Tom, despite all his health problems, will be very competitive.”
Unfortunately, however, Ballan will not be present, as he recovers from the serious injuries he sustained in a training camp crash at the end of last year.
“I’m very sad,” said Pozzato. “I’ll miss him first of all as friend, then as key rider of the races, since he has always been an important reference point.”
After the Ronde, the next big appointment will be Paris-Roubaix, but Pozzato is refusing to think that far ahead just yet.
“The race will take place in more or less a month and, most of all, I must think about Sanremo and Ronde Van Vlaanderen first,” he explained. “I’m aware in these three races I’ll focus most part of my season, so I want to face them strongly one by one, paying close attention.”