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Wout van Aert may have been branded “half human, half motor” by Primož Roglič, but that may not be enough horsepower to top Tadej Pogačar.
Pogačar is “near his Tour de France form” and is the man that classics superstar van Aert will be marking at Milan-San Remo this Saturday.
“I expect Tadej Pogačar to be favorite to be honest,” van Aert said of San Remo after Sunday’s thriller at 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.”
Van Aert sees himself heading toward peak form for Milan-San Remo after eight days of sprint podiums, TT wins and a race-saving turn for Primož Roglič at Paris-Nice.
The big-engined Belgian rescued Roglič’s race in a searing stage through the foothills of Nice on Sunday, putting a cap on the week that saw a time trial stage win, four more trips to the stage podium, and the final green jersey.
- Roglič: ;Van Aert is half human, half motor’
- Classics landscape: All eyes on van Aert in van der Poel vacuum
Next up is a full classics block stretching from San Remo through the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold, and Paris-Roubaix.
Even if Pogačar is favorite, van Aert is confident of his own form ahead of La Classicissima.
“This race leaves me with a good feeling. It was a really hard stage race and it’s really nice to feel these legs at the end of a hard eight-day race. It’s always good for the confidence,” he said. “The work is done, now it’s resting and trying to hold on to the form.”
San Remo showdown with Slovenian duo
Roglič owes van Aert many a beer after the Belgian kept his Paris-Nice challenge alive Sunday.
Simon Yates’ rocket attack over the final climb of the explosive stage outside of Nice put Jumbo-Visma on the brink of relinquishing ‘the race to the sun’ for the second year running.
“It was harder than we hoped and expected. It was a hard day to control. I was lucky to take it easy yesterday so I was really focussed on being there for Promoz in the final,” van Aert said after the stage. “He didn’t have his best legs so it was up to me to bring Primož to the line close enough to Yates”
Van Aert did 90 percent of the pulling as the Jumbo-duo time-trialed through the final. It was enough to keep the Brit in check, if not to prevent the stage-win.
One way Roglič could repay the favor is on the roads toward the Via Roma this weekend.
Roglič is committed to riding for van Aert, and as always, Pogačar is the pair’s fiercest foe. A “pick n mix” of riders ranging from Caleb Ewan through Julian Alaphilippe and defending champ Jasper Stuyven are also expected to challenge.
Van Aert was a half-watt short in the sprint finishes at Paris-Nice but expects to be back at his barnstorming best after a few days rest on the Italian Riviera.
“It is clear that my sprint is slightly less than it has already been,” van Aert said earlier in the week.
“I am at the end of a very long and heavy training block. I notice that I lack some freshness in the sprints. That acceleration will come back by taking it easy. That will be the case after Paris-Nice.”
Also read: Pogačar: ‘I’m close to Tour de France form’
But who knows?
Pogačar’s stunning early season form – including two long-range solos at Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico – means a bunch gallop may not even be on the agenda this Saturday.
Van Aert’s Tour de France green dream
Milan-San Remo will mark just the first of many races where van Aert, Roglič, and Pogačar come together this year, with the Tour de France playing topper.
Van Aert reconfirmed his ambition to target the green points jersey while working for Roglič this July.
“I won [the green jersey] already in the Dauphiné, Tirreno-Adriatico, now Paris-Nice… maybe this summer we try to win it in the big one in the Tour de France,” he said.
Roglič and van Aert did the yellow-green double at Paris-Nice last week.
Stay tuned to see if they can do it in the biggest race in the world in three and a half months’ time.