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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Rivals across the peloton are bracing for the inevitable Saturday at Milan-San Remo.
They all expect one thing — to see Tadej Pogačar attacking over the Poggio to try to gap the peloton.
VeloNews queried several top riders about the prospects for Pogačar and how he will change the script at the “sprinter’s classic.”
“The way he is racing here, I think he can drop everyone,” said Alexander Kristoff, a winner in 2014. “From Poggio, it’s not a long way to the finish, and the way he is climbing, he is going to be difficult to beat.”
Pogačar is unbeaten so far in 2022, winning at the UAE Tour before barnstorming to victory at Strade Bianche with a 50km solo attack and then securing Tirreno-Adriatico on Saturday with another searing solo surge to gap the peloton’s best sprinters.
Milan-San Remo is another type of race, however, with a traditional tug-of-war between the attackers and the sprinters playing out over the Cipressa and Poggio in the closing 35km.
Though he’s only raced once at San Remo — he was 12th in 2020 — nearly everyone sees him as a favorite for victory Saturday down the finishing straight.
“It’s a little bit like Play Station for him,” said Heinrich Haussler, second to Mark Cavendish in 2009. “If he wants to go, he’ll go.”
Speaking Sunday after wrapping up Tirreno, Pogačar hinted that a long-distance attack could be in the cards, perhaps even from the Cipressa. The Poggio is the traditional launching pad for riders trying to drive a wedge between themselves and the sprinters.
“I think it’s difficult unless you cut it on the bottom then you can make Cipressa or Poggio,” Pogačar said. “I think a long attack at Milan-San Remo, that would be something.”
Richie Porte said he’s impressed with what he saw from Pogačar at Tirreno-Adriatico, and said the Slovenian will be a favorite in every race he starts.
“I think the next five years, there’s not going to be many races won by anyone but him,” said Porte, who had a front-row seat to Pogačar’s winning attack Saturday. “When he jumped, it wasn’t like we were doing ridiculous power. He is a level above, he just rode off. No one was even able to react. It was just ridiculously hard and he just clipped off, and that was the last we saw of him.”
Can Pogačar pull ‘a Nibali’? Many think so
Everyone expects Pogačar to bring his sizzling form into what’s traditionally called the “sprinter’s classic.” The problem is a true sprinter has trouble matching the pace up the Poggio.
Many expect Pogačar to follow the familiar script of charging away over the Poggio.
“The way Pogačar is riding, we’re racing for second place,” Damiano Caruso told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “For San Remo, not only do I think he can be a factor, but I think he can win. He’s so strong at the end of a race it’s difficult to think about beating him. I see him capable of doing what [Vincenzo] Nibali did in 2018.”
That year, Nibali pulled clear on the Poggio, and barely fended off the fast-charging bunch. Jasper Stuyven did the same thing last year.
“I expect Tadej Pogačar to be a favorite, to be honest,” Wout van Aert said from Paris-Nice. “In Tirreno-Adriatico he could pull away from the rest on any molehill. He is definitely someone who will be difficult to follow on the Poggio.”
Speaking to Sporza, Tim Wellens said San Remo is quite a different race than Strade Bianche, which included much more vertical. The long but mostly rolling terrain at San Remo makes it live up to its motto of the “easiest race to finish, but the hardest race to win.”
“The Strade Bianche is completely different from Milan-San Remo or the Tour of Flanders,” Wellens told Sporza.”If you are the best in the Strade, you win that race, because everyone ends up in their place. That race is tough enough to make a difference. But a race like Milan-San Remo is different. You really have to go way above it to get away on the Poggio, make a big gap, and stay ahead until the finish.”
Indeed, all eyes will be on Pogačar, so could he be a marked man?
So far, even when riders are with him, he’s been able to ride the peloton off his wheel.
Haussler, who said he’s in awe of the young Slovenian, said he won’t be surprised to see Pogačar winning the race.
“It’s going to be hard for sprinter teams or other top riders to follow him, because his peak power at the end of the race is so much higher than all the rest of the peloton,” Haussler said. “He’s such an all-around rider, it’s going to be tough to beat him in any race.”