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Milano-Sanremo defending champ Gerrans: ‘I am not the favorite’

After winning the 2012 Milano-Sanremo in thrilling fashion, Simon Gerrans is realistic about his chances of repeating

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SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain (VN) — Defending champion Simon Gerrans says he is “realistic” and does not consider himself to be a favorite for Sunday’s Milano-Sanremo.

The Orica-GreenEdge captain delivered a dazzling ride last year by out-kicking Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) in a thrilling, tactical breakaway that held off the furiously chasing pack.

Gerrans, 32, admits that scenario will be hard to replicate.

“Being the defending champion does not make me the favorite,” Gerrans told VeloNews. “I am pretty realistic. I don’t know what the stats are, but I think it’s 1-in-10 that a break goes away and holds off the bunch to win. Last year, I was in the right place, with the right guys, with great form. The chances of that happening again are pretty slim.”

Gerrans’ victory last year was marked somewhat by controversy started by some fans that thought Cancellara was the main driver of the break and somehow deserved to win.

But Gerrans proved he was strong enough to stay with Cancellara’s powerful surges up and over the Poggio, and later had the tactical wile to win.

“It’s my greatest result as a cyclist. It’s a monument, a huge classic. Most pros, if you even get one of those, you’re pretty happy,” Gerrans said. “I’ve always thought I’d win a classic, but to be honest, I never thought it would Milan-San Remo. I am thrilled to have won it.”

Some minor health issues that could prove to be a factor in the decisive final hour of racing have marked Gerrans’ approach to this year’s “classicissima.”

Last year, he enjoyed a flawless early season, winning the Australian national road race title, the overall at the Santos Tour Down Under, and second in a stage at Paris-Nice.

This year, allergies knocked him back at Tour Down Under and he could not challenge for the GC, but he bounced back to win the stage at Old Willunga Hill.

Last week, he pulled out of Paris-Nice when he started to show signs of catching a cold. Rather than risk pushing through and becoming ill, he did not start stage 5 and returned to his European home base in Monaco to recover.

“I decided to go home and recover rather than race myself into a hole there,” he said. “I bounced back pretty quick, so I made the right decision. Had I pushed on, I don’t know what kind of condition I would have been in.”

Gerrans admits he’s missing race days, with only TDU and Paris-Nice on his schedule so far, but says that’s not a major worry in Sanremo’s long distance.

“Last year, I was in pretty good shape and it’s hard to replicate that exactly,” he said. “I have not had ideal preparation. I am not exactly where I want to be for Sanremo. All the hard work is done; I am just shy some race days. It’s such a long race, it’s usually about who’s done the work and who has legs in the end rather than who’s race-fit.”

Gerrans has been busy preparing for the season’s longest one-day. When he fielded a call from VeloNews Tuesday morning, he was catching a flight up to Geneva, Switzerland, to visit his osteopath to make sure he’s “nice and straight” for Sunday’s showdown.

He was also taking plenty of interview requests from the media, with more than a dozen journalists requesting face time with the defending champion ahead of the race.

Gerrans said being the defending champion won’t change the team’s tactics other than him likely being watched more closely by his rivals.

“We’ll go like we did last year, with (2011 winner) Matt Goss as our main man and I will have free rein in the final to have a go myself,” he said. “I know I will be watched more closely. There’s a pretty slim chance of a breakaway working, but I gotta throw my hat in the ring. I am pretty realistic about my real chances of going back to back.”

Gerrans’ said his main goal in the first part of the season is the Ardennes classics.

“When I threw my leg over the bike in the pre-season, we were structuring it around hitting form for the classics,” he said. “Amstel Gold is the race that better suits my abilities, but it’s been Liège where my results have improved. I will take any one of them.”