News Feature, March 19, 2009
With a contingent of seven Australians taking on Milano-Sanremo this weekend, there's a strong chance the outcome on Saturday afternoon will be shaped by most of them.
Every one of the seven will be competing for different squads, and whether it's as a potential race winner or trusted lieutenant in the finale, the Antipodean aroma will be noticed at the pointy end of the race.
Allan Davis (Quick Step)
Having Tom Boonen (who he beat in the '07 edition) as a teammate means the punchy sprinter from Bundaberg may not be given the reins for a win, and team manager Patrick Lefevre has stated that Boonen will be captain on Saturday.
Davis told Cyclingnews after his Down Under win that Sanremo's a pivotal point of his year however, so don't be surprised if he's ahead of the fancied Belgian at the finish, possibly causing one of the upsets of the season.
Robbie McEwen (Katusha)
Although he turns 37 later this year, the Australian is always a threat in Sanremo. He hasn't always had the best of luck in the finale and his highest placing is fourth, in 2007.
Wherever there's a sprint and Robbie McEwen's involved, he's generally a chance for the victory. With former lieutenant Gert Steegmans back on board as the Australian's right-hand man and a Katusha team keen for success, a sly wager could be thrown on the Queenslander to podium, if not win.
Simon Gerrans (Cervélo TestTeam)
Not known as a one-day rider of note, Gerrans is part of what is arguably the hottest squad right now. The team has Thor Hushovd as the in-form captain, Heinrich Haussler as the wildcard with wins to his name in '09 and firepower in the form of Xavier Florencio and Andreas Klier.
Gerrans will be part of that engine room working away over the 298km event, with his task likely to be keeping Hushovd tucked away over the Passo del Turchino, Le Mànie, the three capi, the Cipressa and the Poggio.
Mathew Hayman (Rabobank)
Another rider integral to the running of his team's engine room, Hayman helped Oscar Freire to victory in 2007, although without Freire this year the focus will be on Juan Antonio Flecha to finally take that elusive Classic win.
Hayman's a mighty performer behind the scenes on the big occasions, and although you probably won't get a glimpse of him in the last five kilometres, look out for him driving the bunch for the 293 kilometres before that.
Stuart O'Grady (Saxo Bank)
Fifth in that '07 edition dominated by Australians in the finale, Stuart O'Grady has the maturity and legs to be on the podium in 2009. He admitted his form was ahead of where he thought it might be in January, and with some hard racing in the meantime, look out for him to be even tougher.
He'll be missing one of the prongs in the Saxo Bank attack in Fabian Cancellara; the defending champion announced he'd be skipping la Classicisima to prepare for the Northern Classics in April. The team still possesses a mighty arsenal, and O'Grady's important to the squad's chances.
Mark Renshaw (Columbia-Highroad)
Talk has been of Mark Cavendish's chances recently, although he's been playing them down. Either way, he'll have the services of Mark Renshaw as part of a Columbia-Highroad train that has shown it can deliver its men to the line in '09.
Renshaw has continued to develop in stature as a sprinter of note, and he may be the man to take 'Cav' into the last 200 metres.
Chris Sutton (Garmin-Slipstream)
Like Renshaw, 'CJ' Sutton has matured into a reliable sprinter prepared to do the hard work when it needs to be done. He's got enough punch to get over the climbs and cover the distance, and he's got two talented fellow fastmen to toil for.
Tyler Farrar and Julian Dean will undoubtedly benefit from his 'hard yakka' throughout the day and the team could be in with a shout, judging by Farrar's recent win in Tirreno-Adriatico.