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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Belgian Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) raced Milano-Sanremo 13 times, finishing third twice, so he should know how to win Saturday’s Italian classic. However, winning his fourth of five monuments won’t be so simple.
Gilbert, who won the Tour of Flanders in 2017 with a massive solo attack of 55.5 kilometers, will be part of a deep Quick-Step Floors team.
The team lost sprinter Fernando Gaviria to a crash but counts two other leaders in Italian Elia Viviani and Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe. Alaphilippe finished third in 2017 in a three-up sprint behind winner Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).
“It’s always hard to know [how to win] and to understand this race, of course, I was close a few times, but it never happened to win,” Gilbert said. “I was twice on the podium, but it remains as a dream to make it happen. I don’t know if it’ll be this year or maybe also never.”
In theory, Quick-Step will protect Viviani for an eventual sprint and send Gilbert or Alaphilippe on the attack over the Poggio. The Poggio leaves 5.4 kilometers to the line in Sanremo, 3.2km descending and 2.2km on the flat.
“Poggio attack? Yeah, we’ll try. I don’t have a crystal ball, and I can’t say in advance what will happen,” he continued.
“It’s almost impossible to answer this, it changes every year. There can be many scenarios. It’s very had to predict, and of course, we always start with a strong team. We can race with a team to win.”
Gaviria, who sprinted to fifth in 2017, is out with a broken hand bone. Without him, the tactics weigh more in favor of an attack on the climb leading to the hilltop town of Poggio.
“It was a big disappointment for us to lose Gaviria. That’s really bad news, not just for Sanremo, but the other classics he wanted to race. I think he was in good shape and able to win some of the upcoming races,” Gilbert said.
“Honestly we also have Viviani who for the moment, is the best sprinter of the season. When you see his statistics in the sprint, it’s very impressive. Of course, he will have our confidence and support also.”
Gilbert has attacked on the Poggio before. In 2015, he crashed on the hairpin descent. Seven years prior, he raced with Team FDJ and placed third, doing so again in 2011 with Omega Pharma-Lotto.
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At 35 years old, his time is running out if he wants to score in the Italian one-day race. He also won the monuments Tour of Flanders, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Lombardia. If he could collect Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix, he would have a complete set.
He is not letting those dreams run wild. Or even a dream of an attack on the Poggio to reach Sanremo solo.
“Honestly, if I can win, I don’t care the way, the most important would be to win,” he added. “Of course, it’s more exciting if you win in the sprint because you only see it happen in the last moment and the expectation is higher.”
Quick-Step Floors for Milano-Sanremo
Julian Alaphilippe (F)
Tim Declercq (B)
Philippe Gilbert (B)
Iljo Keisse (B)
Maximiliano Richeze (Arg)
Fabio Sabatini (I)
Elia Viviani (I)