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The “favorites” list for Milano-Sanremo, the season’s first classic, is as long as the Via Roma.
Nearly every team brings someone who aspires to win the longest and fastest of classics, and those dreams have been encouraged by the organizers’ decision to revert to the “classic” Sanremo course, which eliminates the La Maniè climb and moves the finish line back to the Via Roma and closer to the descent off the decisive Poggio climb.
Most of the major favorites have notched early season results that bolster their confidence. Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), defending champ Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), and Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) will all appear on the “five-star” favorites list.
Behind them are two intriguing names that could well surprise the top favorites. Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) and Juanjo Lobato (Movistar) line up in the second-tier list of favorites, and will race with the same ambition to win, but without the heavy pressure that comes with marquee-name status.
For Orica, Matthews generates a lot of buzz going into the race they won in 2012 with Simon Gerrans, who will miss the classics opener due to injury. Matthews has raced Sanremo twice, but never featured in the sharp end of the action, crossing the line 78th last year.
Sport director Matthew White is hoping for a breakthrough this season.
“We are definitely aiming for the podium with Michael,” White said in a team release. “He’s done the race a few times now … where the conditions didn’t suit him that much, but it’s definitely a race that suits Michael’s characteristics.”
Matthews, 24, made an impressive season debut at Paris-Nice, winning stage 3 and claiming the points jersey. A winner of stages in the Vuelta a España and the Giro d’Italia, Matthews is also in line to race the Giro again as well as make his Tour debut this season. A strong performance in Sanremo would only confirm his rising stock.
Another rider who could tip the applecart of the favorites is Spanish sprinter Lobato. A winner of stages at the Santos Tour Down Under and Ruta del Sol, and second place at the Clásica de Almeria, Lobato was fourth last year.
“Sanremo is my first real goal of the season,” Lobato told VeloNews earlier this year. “It’s a race that suits me. I can last the distance, and I still have a strong kick. And the new ‘old’ course is even better for me. I am very motivated.”
Lobato will stretch his legs in the GP Nobili on Thursday, where he was fourth last year as well.
A strong Movistar squad will support Lobato, including Rory Sutherland, who is expected to return to racing after crashing out at Mallorca Challenge in February.
Some in Spain are comparing the 26-year-old Lobato to former MSR winner Óscar Freire. If he could win one, even compared to Freire’s three victories down the Via Roma finishing straight, Lobato would be more than happy.