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Kings of the classics prepare for 2018 battles

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — The kings of the 2017 classics are preparing for battle this 2018 season, starting in the next weeks in Australia, Argentina, and Spain. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) wants to win Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix, but Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky), Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) are ready for the challenge as well.

On Jan. 1, teams revealed their official rosters and team jerseys for the new season. Slovakian Sagan, 27, looks the same in his rainbow jersey thanks to his third consecutive world title in September. During the team photographs and camps, he and the German WorldTour team confirmed his 2018 program and goals.

“Not much has changed,” Sagan told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “I’ll race Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico before Milano-Sanremo. It’s a classic run to Flanders and Roubaix.

“My wish? Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix victories. But if I could pull off Flanders again … that wouldn’t be bad!”

The classics start with the opening weekend in Belgium (Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on Feb. 24 and 25), and continue with races like E3 Harelbeke, Dwars door Vlaanderen, and Ghent-Wevelgem. The big ones fall on March 17 (Milano-Sanremo), April 1 (Tour of Flanders), and April 8 (Paris-Roubaix). After that, another group of riders will compete for the Ardennes and build toward the grand tours.

Sagan’s classics group returns stronger than before. He relies on his brother Juraj, Marcus Burghardt, Lukas Pöstlberger, Maciej Bodnar, and new arrival Daniel Oss. Oss came from the team of Sagan’s No. 1 classics rival, BMC’s Van Avermaet. Sagan and Oss raced together at Liquigas for three years when Sagan first turned professional in 2010.

“I’m very happy to have him,” Sagan added. “He’s a good friend, and a great rider.”

Van Avermaet partly won the 2017 Paris-Roubaix thanks to Oss’s work. However, BMC assembled another strong team to support the Belgian leader. Jürgen Roelandts, from team Lotto-Soudal, will take over the spot left blank.

Gilbert won the Tour of Flanders in 2017 and Van Avermaet, after a crash with a fan, finished second and fell short of getting his dream win.

“I will always say Flanders is the most important,” Van Avermaet said. “It’s the race that fits me the best, and I’d like to win. If I am honest, my biggest dream is to win Flanders. I want to be good there.”

Gilbert succeeded in a remarkable 55.5-kilometer solo win in Flanders. With the victory, Quick-Step general manager Patrick Lefevere decided to renew Gilbert and further support him.

Tom Boonen retired and Matteo Trentin joined Mitchelton-Scott. Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar will lead the 2018 races for Quick-Step with Gilbert, while Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria will join for experience.

“At the end of the 2017 season, we said goodbye to riders who have played important roles in the success of the team over the years, but as we have seen, the next generation of leaders, die-hard kilometer zero pullers, domestiques, sprinters, and puncheurs is flourishing,” said Lefevere.

“I have the greatest confidence that we have the right combination of experienced riders who can take on the responsibility and live up to the very high expectations and pressure.”

Sky’s Kwiatkowski topped Sagan and Julian Alaphilippe in a three-up sprint to win Milano-Sanremo in 2017. That and his Tour de France ride for Chris Froome earned him a new three-year deal.

Sky will support Kwiatkowski again in the opening classics, with Ian Stannard and Gianni Moscon playing helper roles. Luke Rowe is slowly returning from a broken leg, but the team also has Dylan Van Baarle (from team Cannondale-Drapac) and second-year professionals Owain Doull and Jonathan Dibben.

For 2018, though, Kwiatkowski could return to the Tour of Flanders for the first time in two years. The race suits him, and he’s already won Milano-Sanremo, Strade Bianche, and E3 Harelbeke. Geraint Thomas, who is building toward the Tour de France, will return to Paris-Roubaix.

The idea is that Kwiatkowski could fit Flanders in and back off to return for Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Either way, he will take a break after Liège to be ready to help Froome in the Tour de France.

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