Holm: Sagan man to beat in 2013 classics, but Boasson Hagen one to watch

Omega director eyes Sagan, Boasson Hagen as biggest challengers to repeat of his team's 2012 classics supremacy

BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — He has two of the strongest riders in history on his Omega Pharma-Quick Step squad, but director Brian Holm can’t help but look over his shoulder.

Omega men Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish are poised to have big years. While he is coming off surgery to treat a septic infection, Boonen dominated the northern classics last year, sweeping through H3 Harelbeke, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Ghent-Wevelgem, and Paris-Roubaix. Cavendish can flat-out fly and is back to what will likely be a full compliment of riders in a leadout train.

And yet, this could be the (next) year of Slovakian prodigy Peter Sagan as his co-captain Vincenzo Nibali has left for Astana, putting Cannondale’s hopes squarely upon his broad shoulders.

Sky has announced a revamped approach to the classics season, pulling its cobblestone riders out of the traditional early season tune-ups in favor of more specific training. Edvald Boasson Hagen could certainly do some damage on the cobbles and Bernhard Eisel has won Ghent before.

For Milan-San Remo, the biggest crapshoot of them all, one has to think Omega’s duo is favored. Cavendish has won San Remo before and Boonen’s come close, but it was Sagan who won the field sprint for fourth a year ago and La Primavera is a notch he badly wants to add to his belt.

Beautiful madness, all of it. And after such a tumultuous offseason, we couldn’t be any more eager to look toward the bike, the cobbles and the cols. VeloNews reached out to the always-sage Omega Pharma director Brian Holm to break down the spring campaign.

One has to like Omega Pharma’s chances in the season’s first monument, Milan-San Remo. Cavendish has already won la “Classicima,” and it’s easy to see Omega’s hand: Boonen up the road, Cavendish in the bunch — if he can make it over Le Manie — waiting to see if it comes back together. Either could win from such a position, and will be tapped as favorites early on.

As for the cobblestones, Holm expects the usual suspects, starting with his own man, Boonen: “Probably the same as always. We’re going to see [Fabian] Cancellara around. Fabian, he’s going to be there fore sure.”

For sure, indeed, unless an errant bidon finds the RadioShack-Leopard man’s wheel in a feedzone, as it did at Flanders in 2012. Bet on Cancellara making a strong classics campaign after the hard luck of last season saw Boonen snatch his third Flanders victory and his fourth Paris-Roubaix title.

When asked about Sagan, who tiptoed around the classics podiums in 2012 but has yet to score a major spring win, Holm took a long pause.

“He’s going to be there for sure. I think he’s going to win one. But sooner or later, he’s going to have to decide if he’s a sprinter, a climber… That guy was fantastic,” Holm said of Sagan. “I’ve never seen anything like it. But you know, I don’t know that it’s going to continue another three years. I think he’s going to hang on to the classics also. But you’ve got the experienced classics riders, Boonen, [Filippo] Pozzato (Lampre-Merida).

And another man on the cobbles doorstep: Boasson Hagen. The big Norwegian, Holm thinks, will contest the monuments for years to come. Sky could legitimately build its classics program around the Tour de France stage-winner.

“He could win one of the classics also, right?” Holm said. “He’s just strong. Boonen is strong, Sagan is strong. He’s just got that extra gear in his body.”

Holm likes Boasson Hagen’s size and strength. Who wouldn’t?

“It’s fantastic how strong that guy is. He’s still young, yeah. Sooner or later, he has to win the big classic,” said Holm. “I think Peter Sagan could be everybody’s problem, of course. But like, a little bit too light for the big, big classics, Sagan, I don’t know. I mean, we’re talking about racing 270 kilometers. It’s a long way. And a bit longer. I think somehow, Sagan, he’s going to be the big rider of 2013, but in the longer races, I think Edvald is stronger.”

To boot, Sky has launched a reformed classics attack after disappointing results last year. Eisel will likely captain the bunch, though he’s not a favorite on the holiest of one-days. That role may fall to the British national champion.

“He’s a good road captain also, but he’s probably not going to win Paris-Roubaix or Flanders,” said Holm. “So, the problem starts with [Ian] Stannard. He could be there.”

Pressed for winners, Holm tapped Boonen or — surprise — his Omega Pharma teammate Sylvain Chavanel to win Paris-Roubaix, Boonen in Flanders, and Sagan at San Remo. There are many others who will challenge, such as BMC Racing’s world champion Philippe Gilbert and teammate Thor Hushovd. Only time, the road, and errant bottles will tell what the early spring will bring us.