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Monument-season got underway with Milan-San Remo on Saturday.
La Primavera‘s start-list has been shorn of a stack of top favorites, with Julian Alaphilippe, Caleb Ewan, Sonny Colbrelli and defending champion Jasper Stuyven all absent.
Tadej Pogačar and W0ut van Aert start Saturday’s marathon Italian monument at the top of the bookies’ betting slips, and the late call-up of Mathieu van der Poel stirred a whole pot of speculation at how far the dazzling Dutchman could go.
Here’s what some of the second-tier favorites said at the startline in Milano on Saturday morning:
Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal)
Philippe Gilbert was set to play co-captain with Caleb Ewan until the Aussie was forced out with illness. Much has been made of Gilbert’s “strive for five” mission to sweep the monuments. The Belgian veteran will need all his experience and a little luck to make it happen Saturday:
“It’s a really nice race today. It’s 300km and you don’t do that every weekend. So it’s really special. It’s a really important race but I also know that I’ve not won here. I’ve had some good places but not a win. There’s a lot of expectations but I’m realistic about my chances because my shape was not great, and I got sick before, like a lot of guys like Paris-Nice. It’s really not the best condition to start.
“There are a lot of people sick but there are also a lot of riders riding really, really fast. I expect a fast race, especially with a tailwind along the coast.”
Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco)
Michael Matthews has long had his eye on scoring in Milan-San Remo. The Aussie all-rounder came close twice, landing on the podium in 2015 and 2020. Matthews has the fast finish and climbing legs to make it work on the Via Roma, and with a number of sprinters out of the race, this year could be his best chance yet.
“I’m still OK. I’m trying to recover from my crash in Strade. I’m as good as I can be and I’m on the start line, which is a good sign. It seems like a lot of sprinters are out sick now and that can open things up for a much more explosive race without the sprinters’ teams controlling things on the Cipressa and Poggio.
“I don’t really know what to expect. With so many guys out it’s flipped the cards upside down even more. For me, we’ll see. I’ll need to be with the guys when they go on the climb and then see what I can do at the finish.”
Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious)
Matej Mohorič will take a starring role at San Remo after teammate Sonny Colbrelli withdrew due to bronchitis. Mohorič is a dark-horse contender for most races he starts, and top-11 finishes in his past three San Remo starts shows he knows what he needs to do to make Milan-San Remo a potential palmarès-topper.
“It’s unfortunate that Colbrelli isn’t riding because I think that it makes it easier if you have two cards to play with. Also I’ve not been at my best since my crash in Strade. I hurt my knee quite badly so I’ve only been able to train in the last couple of days. I did my best to preserve my condition as best as possible.
“I hope for a good race but I don’t have very high expectations. I can fly downhill and I also have something new on my bike today. It won’t help me go faster uphill but if I don’t lose contact then it might help me go downhill. We’ll see. I don’t know if I can make it that far. I don’t know how my legs will feel 10 days after my crash but I’ve been thinking about this race the whole winter. I don’t want to give up at the last moment.”
Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo)
Mads Pedersen didn’t even know he was going to be racing Milan-San Remo this time last week. Jasper Stuyven’s withdrawal saw the fast-finishing Dane get a late call-up from his squad to debut at La Primavera. If Pedersen survives the Poggio, he could be well-placed to come out best in a bunch-kick.
“When I got the call on Thursday evening I had to turn on and try and be really focused for the race. I did good results in a monument the first time that I did it so sometimes going into a race and not knowing what to expect can be a benefit. I’ll follow and then I’ll sprint.”