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Quinn Simmons makes monument debut at Milano-Sanremo

Trek-Segafredo will try to disrupt the pre-race favorites with Vincenzo Nibali and Jasper Stuyven at Milano-Sanremo.

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Quinn Simmons makes his monument debut Saturday at Milano-Sanremo as part of an experienced Trek-Segafredo team stacked with options.

“Sanremo will be the first monument of my life and, for a classic lover like I am, it’s a milestone,” Simmons said Friday. “However, I don’t find it useful to think too much about this. I want to approach it with respect but with as little stress as possible. At the end of the day, whether you’re a leader, domestique or rookie, what we have to do is racing, as usual. And I want to do it while having fun.”

The second-year WorldTour pro — who was suspended last fall by Trek-Segafredo for what the team called “divisive, incendiary, and detrimental” comments — joins 2018 winner Vincenzo Nibali and Jasper Stuyven as part of a strong block of riders looking to disrupt the pre-race favorites.

Also read: Quinn Simmons addresses his suspension 

Saturday will be Nibali’s 13th Milano-Sanremo start, and his 41st start in one of cycling’s five monuments. Nibali knows well the nuances of the race, and hit third in 2012 before his stunning solo victory in 2018 when he barely fended off the chasing pack on the Via Roma.

“[The long race] is the calm before the storm because in just 20 kilometers, it becomes the hottest race, one that doesn’t forgive,” Nibali said in a team release. “Each edition is a story. Everyone knows what awaits, but no one knows what can happen from Cipressa onwards. It’s the most open classic in terms of characteristics but must be approached with the utmost attention to detail.”

Stuyven is always a steady presence in the monuments, and starts for the fourth time. His previous best was 10th in 2018, the same year Nibali won while racing on Bahrain-Merida.

“Many people say it’s a sprinters’ classic, but I disagree. It’s simply a classic,” Stuyven said. “In the past, maybe yes, it was more for the sprinters, but now we have seen in the last years that it’s going more and more towards puncheurs and power sprinters, or guys that can stay away but with the sprinters just two seconds behind. It’s all so close to play for. In the past, before I was racing, I feel like that it was more of a certainty that it would be a sprint. Now, it’s really in the balance between the outcomes.”

Trek-Segafredo: Aiming to disrupt the favorites

Sport director Kim Andersen underscored the team’s outsider role, and vowed to come up with a tactical plan to put its riders in contention for a shot at victory.

“There are teams with riders that are big favorites for MSR and they will be the ones that will manage the race. It’s up to us to be in the right place at the right time to disrupt their plans. We have two valid alternatives to play with, and this must be our strong point,” Andersen said.

“The Poggio is the key point of the race,” he said. “As soon as you approach it, there’s a sort of natural selection, both on the climb and on the descent. Year after year, the growing level of the performances has moved the bar higher, or further really: the closer you get to the finish line, the more you see the real differences.”

For Simmons, who has already posted some strong results in early races such as Strade Bianche and 10th at Faun Ardèche Classic, this season will also see him racing across the major northern classics for the first time as well.

Also read: Quinn Simmons to debut at Flanders, Roubaix

This spring, the 19-year-old is trying to tip-toe back into the limelight following his controversial suspension, and put racing back at the center of his focus.

“My dream for Milano-Sanremo would be to drop everyone on the Poggio, going full speed on the descent, resisting the chasers and crossing the line solo with my arms raised,” he said in a team release. “I think that’s the coolest way to win MSR … just like Vincenzo did, the most vivid memory I have of the race.

“From Strade Bianche onwards, with Tirreno-Adriatico and now MSR, it’s been a dip in cycling history as well as the first real confrontation with cycling’s elite,” Simmons said. “And in a few weeks, I’ll be racing the Ronde (van Vlaanderen) and Paris-Roubaix.  This is what I am looking for; I can’t wait.”

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Vincenzo Nibali returns to “La Primavera” still flying high from his Milano-Sanremo victory in 2018. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images