With Milan-San Remo just several days away, perennial favourite Tom Boonen is tipping Daniele Bennati to become the first Italian rider to win the event since Filippo Pozzato in 2006.
The 29-year-old from Arezzo took stage two at last month's Tour of Oman and was in the hunt for overall honours. He maintained that form, winning the third stage of Tirreno-Adriatico the day after Boonen had secured his first stage victory in the event with a win in Montecatini Terme.
And the Belgian has good reason to be aware of Bennati's form - he finished behind the Italian during both of those early season victories. "Daniele Bennati is the main favourite for me," Boonen told Sporza overnight.
"Maybe not the most likely name, but he is good at riding hard, like his Liquigas team," he added. "Perhaps Liquigas will ride with the same tactics as us [Quick Step]: a long, hard race and a sprint with a depleted group in San Remo."
Defending champion Mark Cavendish crashed during yesterday's final stage of Tirreno-Adriatico and while the likes of former San Remo kings Mario Cipollini and Erik Zabel haven't written off the HTC-Columbia rider, his chances may have been hampered by the accident.
"I'd also have Cavendish in the reckoning [for the win], though he still must improve a bit," said Boonen, adding that he'd obviously prefer the race to end in a sprint, which usually proves the most likely eventuality.
"Sanremo is a classic sprint, as simple as that. It is an extremely difficult sprint; it's hard, very hard. This contest remains a major challenge in my career," continued the Belgian star, who has never won the race and will line up for his ninth edition of 'la Classicisima' on Saturday.
While Boonen took his third Paris-Roubaix title last year and hopes to go one better this season, he knows it will come at the cost of his chances in Milan-San Remo. He needs to save some condition for next month but admits that he's feeling better than this time in 2009.
"This year I can join the greats by another Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix win, there is a little bit between San Remo," he said. "It's hard for me to be 100 percent fit here at the start to come. I'm not at my best, but I'm better now than during the same period last year."