Two-time Milan-San Remo winner Sean Kelly believes that Tadej Pogačar is in unstoppable form ahead of this Saturday’s monument and that the UAE Team Emirates rider has no weaknesses. However, the Irishman believes that the Slovenian’s rivals can take their chances if they can match Pogačar on the final two climbs and then seize their moment to attack in the closing kilometers.
Speaking exclusively to VeloNews, the 1986 and 1992 winner of Milan-San Remo said that while this year’s course may not provide the perfect landscape for Pogačar’s skillset, the rider was in such scintillating form that a long-range attack on the Cipressa could be on the cards.
Pogačar has won every race he’s entered so far in 2022, with two stage wins and the overall in both the UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico.
Between those two races, he stole the show at Strade Bianche with a jaw-dropping 50km solo win.
“The main point is that you don’t really have the steep climbs in Milan-San Remo, like you do in Tirreno-Adricatio and we saw there that no one can match him on those gradient,” Kelly told VeloNews.
“When it’s at 12 to 15 percent he’s just uncontrollable. In Milan-San Remo it’s more of a power-man’s race. There are a good few guys who should be able to match him on the Cipressa but if he really puts the team to work on that climb then the race will be massively difficult and some of the riders in trouble might be dropped on the Poggio. There’s no magic way of beating Pogačar. You just have to follow, follow, and then hopefully you get some respite before the Poggio.”
Winning moves in Milan-San Remo have the potential to form on the last two climbs of the race with the Cipressa often softening up the peloton before the final ascent of the Poggio. Attacks also take place on the descent of that climb, and just as the road levels off before the finish, but Kelly believes that if Pogačar and his team put the pressure on during the Cipressa, and then the rider himself attacks on the Poggio, few rivals will be able to follow.
“I think that there will be guys who can stay with him on the Poggio. Riders like Wout van Aert, who has that power. Caleb Ewan was very impressive last year and I think that Primož Roglič is riding too.”
“But I don’t think Pogacar has a weakness, unfortunately. He’s able to ride in all conditions, he can sprint in a small group, but if he gets to a finish with van Aert then maybe the Belgian has the edge but San Remo is 300km and if you make the race difficult then it’s a different sort of sprint. I’ve never seen a rider like Pogacar in the Classics or the grand tours. Bernard Hinault did it in flashes when he rode away from everyone in Liège-Bastogne-Liège in terrible conditions, hours from the finish, but Pogačar has it all. He’s the real deal.”
“I would say he’s going to make the race harder on the Cipressa. I think he’ll put riders in difficulty there and then do the damage on the Poggio but who knows. He could just ride away from them all on the Cipressa. If he does that then it’s going to be a full-on race from the foot of that climb. If Jumbo-Visma has numbers then it’s up to them to chase.”
One area where Pogačar’s rivals could exploit the Slovenian comes just after the Poggio as the race tears towards the Via Roma. If a small group reaches that point then the expectancy will be on Pogacar to control the group and mark every rider who is able to attack. If Pogacar fails to respond to a single move that provides the split second needed to create a winning gap.
“That’s Milan-San Remo for you,” Kelly said.
“Once you get over the Poggio with a group you always look at who is going to keep riding and who is going to take an opportunity to go off the front. There’s always that chance. Pogacar knows that he can’t chase everyone because it’s already going to be difficult for him in the sprint. Pidcock is another one who I think could be a dark horse.”