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BMC Racing hopes to kickstart stalled monuments program, but will be without Phinney at Sanremo

American Taylor Phinney is ill and may not start Sunday, but BMC Racing is hoping its powerful Sanremo squad will finally deliver a major classics win

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MILAN (VN) — BMC Racing will bring a load of firepower to the season’s first major classic Sunday at Milano-Sanremo, with hopes of kick-starting its stalled monuments program. The American team will have to do without the services of Taylor Phinney, however, after the 23-year-old came down with a fever late this week.

Despite hiring star riders like former world champions Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert, the American team has largely been blanked the past two years in the spring classics.

They’ve been close, especially with Greg Van Avermaet consistently knocking on the door. In fact, Van Avermaet’s win in the 2011 Paris-Tours is the team’s last big win in the one-day classics.

This year, BMC is hoping to bring home a big one, and Sunday’s Milano-Sanremo presents the team with its first chance.

“I was good at Tirreno-Adriatico, and I like Sanremo. We are a classics team,” said Gilbert. “My dream is to win all the classics, and I am not doing Flanders or Roubaix, so it’s a dream to win. We are all dreaming about Milano-Sanremo. We all start to win.”

Gilbert will co-captain the squad with Van Avermaet, with Thor Hushovd a third card to play if it comes down to a larger group sprint. Phinney, who punched into the top 10 last year, came down with a fever Friday, and will not start.

“I had expressed a lot of love for the race over the past couple of weeks and it is definitely genuine,” Phinney said in a press release. “So it is hard for me to not be able to take the start. But I have to look forward to [Paris-Roubaix]. I’m sorry for the team that I can’t be there for them and also sorry for myself because I was definitely looking forward to this race.”

Fifth in Friday’s Handzame Classic in Belgium, Klaas Lodewyck will replace Phinney in the team’s line-up.

Gilbert, who has never won Sanremo in 10 starts, said it’s not a bad thing to have more than one card to play in a race as unpredictable as Sanremo.

“It’s always good to have more than one in the final. There is less pressure on one guy. We can also play this against other teams. If one of us goes, the other can stay back and wait for the reaction,” Gilbert said. “But we are not the only team without a sprinter. Cannondale, too, with [Peter] Sagan, he likes it to be a smaller group.”

Both Gilbert and Van Avermaet look to be in top shape. Gilbert has high hopes for this year’s classics program, while Van Avermaet is hungry for a breakout win following many close calls. Second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last month, Van Avermaet said he’s ready.

“This is the first big test of the year,” Van Avermaet said. “This is a good start before the Flanders classics. It’s also a race that I’ve liked since the first time I raced when I was 22. It’s a special race, with a long distance. It’s a nervous race, a fast race.”

Both riders said Sanremo would have suited them better if the Pompeiana climb had been included as expected. Road damage means the controversial addition won’t be in the cards until next year. In 2007, the last year on the “classic” course without La Maniè, Gilbert was first over the Poggio.

As Gilbert pointed out, the finish line is no longer at Via Roma, which was very near the bottom of the Poggio, but now more than 1km further away, something he said makes a big difference if small groups can stay away.

“I can be a contender with this course, with the other course, if they do this climb [Pompeiana], it’s better for me. I’ve never won this race, but I can also be deep in the final,” Gilbert said. “It’s longer to the finish line now. It’s no longer on the Via Roma. The hardest thing in this race is the distance from bottom of Poggio to the finish line.”

Both Van Avermaet and Gilbert agreed that forecasted rain and wind could dramatically alter the outcome of the race.

“The descents are very slippery in the rain,” Van Avermaet said. “It’s too far to attack from the Cipressa. If it’s raining, the descent off the Poggio is very tricky.”

For Gilbert, Sanremo remains an elusive, if alluring target.

“It’s a special race. In other races, you know with 40km if you can go deep into the final. Here, you’re never sure. This is one of these races where you can have a lot of different type of riders who can win,” Gilbert said. “You have riders like me and Greg, you have the sprinters, and even some climbers. I was looking at YouTube, and I even saw [Marco] Pantani attacking on the Cipressa. So many riders can win. It’s not like Flanders, where only a few can win. Here, we are all together.”

BMC is hoping one of its riders is the right type when the 105th edition of Milano-Sanremo barrels onto the Italian Riviera.