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Filippo Ganna dreams of pulling a Cancellara-style coup at Milan-San Remo

'Spartacus' pulled a stunner with his solo dash down the finish straight in 2008 – Ganna hopes he could do the same.

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Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) has long been mentioned in the same breath as time trial and classics legend Fabian Cancellara.

And now the burly Italian rouleur sees a Cancella-esque gallop down the Via Roma as his best hope of securing an-against-all-odds coup at Milan-San Remo on Saturday.

“I can’t arrive in the sprint, and I can’t follow Tadej [Pogačar] or Wout [van Aert] on the climb because we are really different bodies,” Ganna said Friday. “For sure, the Fabian style is perfect for me.”

Ganna is one of the dark horses for Saturday’s monument and an outlier in a field full of sprinters, climbers, or something in-between. Illness has slashed startlists throughout the peloton, but the two top favorites Tadej Pogačar and Wout van Aert remain.

“Spartacus” Cancellara stole the show with his surprise dash down the Lungomare Italo Calvino finish in 2008, and Ganna may need to rely on a similar unlikely raid to see success Saturday.

Ever improving results at his four previous Primavera and strong-early season climbing suggest all 80kg of Ganna could arrive in position for the Via Roma gallop.

“I think we will see when we arrive down the Poggio if it’s possible if I’m in the group in the front,” Ganna said in a team conference.

“San Remo is a long race and I’ve seen over the years that I can arrive [with the winners] closer to the finish line. Last year I arrived at the bottom of the Poggio, this year if I can jump with the biggest riders … tomorrow we will see.”

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Ganna’s ability to hang with the climbers in the mountains of the United Arab Emirates and Provence was one of the stories of the early season.

The time trial and track supertalent suggested that his training has pivoted toward honing his big engine and brawny frame for the always-punshing pace on the Poggio, but also that he’s treading a tightrope of conflicting ambitions.

 

“I reduced training on the track, and I’ve been trying to do more training with long hours and long efforts. And I try to reduce the weight, but it is not easy for my body because I have a lot of muscle,” he explained.

“I cannot lose too much now because after San Remo we have the northern classics. I cannot arrive at Roubaix without muscle, you can’t ride that with a body like the climbers.”

Early season illness adds to the San Remo riddle

The illness sweeping through the early spring peloton has shorn San Remo of a stack of stars, from Julian Alaphilippe and Jasper Stuyven to Sam Bennett and Caleb Ewan.

Pogačar is said to have had a brush with the bug, and Ganna confirmed he too has been struck down in recent days.

It all adds to the lottery that is “the easiest race to finish, the hardest race to win.”

“I think in the end, 85-90 percent of the bunch have the same problems as me,” Ganna said of his recent early season illness.

“For sure it’s not nice, it’s better to arrive with good shape, but the mentality and the legs are ready. You need to be more strong in the head, and tomorrow be focused in the final. If I have a result its fantastic, if I don’t arrive … we say nothing,” he joked.


Should Ganna succumb to Milan-San Remo’s marathon mileage or his lingering illness, Tom Pidcock, Ethan Hayter, Elia Viviani and 2017 San Remo champ Michal Kwiatkowski give Ineos Grenadiers options for every eventuality.

With former winner Vincenzo Nibali far down any bookies’ betting slip and Roubaix champ Sonny Colbrelli one of the many out with illness, Viviani and Ganna are two of Italy’s leading contenders for taking the prosecco in Sanremo.

But Ganna has stolen the nation’s hearts with his time trial world titles, boy-next-door charm, and modest media presence – it’s for him that a party would truly start.

“I think San Remo of the most important races in Italy, after the Giro and Lombardia. For Italians it’s a really important race, Ganna said.

“Just to think that to start in Milan and seven hours later to arrive in San Remo like a big rider like Merckx, like a big star for the cycling sport, it’s really special for Italian people, but also for everyone.”

Will Ganna arrive in San Remo like one of the sport’s biggest stars Saturday? If he does, it could be with a Cancellara-esque individual pursuit off the Poggio.