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Filiippo Pozzato isn't a five-star favorite at...

Pozzato’s big bet in Flanders

FIlippo Pozzato is a dark-horse pick for Tour of Flanders, but he's landed on the podium before and is building into spring's biggest races.

ZOTTEGEM, Belgium (VN) — The Ronde van Vlaanderen is big gamble, but Filippo Pozzato knows how to bet and win big. He has been doing so, though infrequently, for 16 years, winning Milano-Sanremo, E3 Harelbeke, and the GP Ouest France-Plouay.

The Italian from Veneto lives in Monaco near the famous casino. This year, the 34-year-old could be putting everything on the table at De Ronde. He is no longer on a WorldTour team, having left Lampre – Merida for Pro Continental team Southeast – Venezuela. The team will race Belgium’s Ronde (Tour of Flanders) with one of the few wildcard invitations.

“The team’s fresh air for me,” he told VeloNews. “My problems with Lampre were well-documented. [He was called a ‘prima donna‘ by the team]. With a new team it’s better. I always go better when I change and have new motivation.”

He has little chance to win the cobbled monument judging by the group of Italians, and one Albanian teammate, around him at the start of Driedaagse De Panne in Zottegem on Wednesday morning. The Southeast group in yellow and grey appear weak and inexperienced compared to the super squads supporting Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky). However, they could rise to the occasion for their leader.

Pozzato may have left behind the big-budget WorldTour teams, but not his ability to ride the cobbles. Besides winning smaller cobbled classics E3 Harelbeke and Omloop Het Volk (now Het Nieuwsblad), he finished runner-up in the two cobbled monuments, Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. The experience will help on Sunday.

Belgium’s biggest race is more important for Pozzato this year, as he will not race Paris-Roubaix because his Southeast team did not receive one of the 2016 wildcard invitations. Everything is on Flanders: 255.9 kilometers with 18 short and steep climbs, many of which are cobbled.

“It’s important for me and for the team,” Pozzato said. “I’m going to try to have my best result yet.”

Pozzato finished eighth in Milano-Sanremo and then travelled north to Belgium where he placed fourth in the Dwars door Vlaanderen. “Racing at the back of the group is not my secret. In fact, if you want to win in Belgium, you need to race at the front. I just don’t want to take any risks for Flanders. My condition is good. I saw that I climbed Kapelmuur faster than the others based on the time I have on my SRM. The numbers are there, but theory is one thing and practice is another.”

However, he ignores those numbers until after the day is done, taping over the watt reading on his computer, simply riding on feel. “I only look at the watts when I’m training or after a race, when I download it to my computer,” Pozzato added. We’ll see on Sunday whether his cobblestone savvy can garner a big result on Belgium’s cobbled bergs — regardless of the wattage data.