Matt Goss (GreenEdge) believes the equation is simple. In order to become the first man since Eric Zabel in 2001 to collect back-to-back victories at Milan-San Remo, he has only to be in the right position.
"If I can get to the finish with the front group then I'm in with a good shot," he put succinctly to Cyclingnews.
Goss made history in 2011, becoming the first Australian in the 102-year history of La Primavera to cross the line first. Then riding for HTC-Highroad, his victory over classics specialists Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek) and Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma – Lotto) was a triumph. Biding his time in the 44-man lead group after the peloton was split by a crash before the start of Le Manie, Goss bided his time before an attack by Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas – Cannondale) splintered the contenders on the Poggio. Along with Gilbert, Cancellara, Filippo Pozzato (Katusha), Alessandro Ballan (BMC) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD), Goss fought to bridge the gap and then outwitted his highly-fancied rivals along the Lungomare Italo Calvino.
"He's the only man that I believe can beat me if I don't make a mistake" - Mark Cavendish on Matt Goss
"If I had had some better luck in Tirreno and won a stage then I'd have no choice [but to play his form down] but as it is I know that my fitness is good - as long as my health's good I know I'm going to be fine," Goss continued. "I'm not going to play things up or down. Everyone knows what's been happening and we'll see how everything goes on the day. As long as I'm healthy there's no reason why I can't be in the front group and if I am, then it's a good opportunity for the win."
The 25-year-old will be on the start line in Milan having not contended the final day individual time trial of Tirreno–Adriatico earlier in the week due to a cold but was confident in his recovery. Goss had been keen to put in a good showing at the Due Mare having been lacking intensity at the Tour of Oman in February. The Launceston native wore the leader's blue jersey courtesy of GreenEdge's victory in the opening team time trial and held onto it until the fourth stage when he moved onto domestique duties for Cameron Meyer. Goss' best individual result came the day prior, when he finished sixth behind stage winner Edvald Boasson Hagen with his strength not in question.
"I thought it [the finish] was a little bit further to go from the corner, and a bit of a silly mistake, I actually didn't realise it was on cobbled roads and I thought I could move from where I was into a good position," Goss explained. "I deliberately come through that corner in fifth but when you're sprinting on cobbles it's really difficult to make up any position and we kind of just stayed where we were.
"All in all, the legs felt pretty good."
And they should. Since the Tour Down Under, Goss has been working on his endurance rather than his top-end speed with the next month of racing front of mind. His days following the Tour of Oman have involved long stints behind the motorbike, riding distances of around 200km, which Goss admits is unchartered territory when it comes to training.
When it comes to racing, it's the more protracted events of the season that Goss has put his name to over the past few seasons, with Paris - Brussels (217.6km), the Philadelphia International (251km) and GP Plouay (248km). When he was narrowly beaten to the world title by Mark Cavendish in Copenhagen last year, it was on minimal racing having been forced out of the Vuelta a Espana due to illness.
Goss told Cyclingnews that he rates his training heading into Milan–San Remo to have been better than this time last year by which time he had several wins under his belt including stages at the Tour Down Under, Tour of Oman and Paris-Nice, which should sound as a warning to his rivals. Goss' innate ability to train himself into top form should again play into his hands this Saturday.
Friends and rivals
Given the closeness of his world championship victory over Goss, it was no surprise that Cavendish recently labelled the Australian as the man-most-likely should the pair go head in a bunch sprint.
"When he's on form he arrives there fresh, he can climb well and he's clever on the bike," the man known as the Manx Missile said of his former teammate Goss. "I've known him a long time and raced amateurs with him. He's the only man that I believe can beat me if I don't make a mistake."
Race-favourite Cavendish is fit and on form, and like Goss, is targeting a second win at Milan–San Remo, having last tasted success in 2009 at his first attempt. While Goss admits that Cavendish is a likely-contender in 2012, he hasn't paid too much attention to the Sky sprinter's comments.
"It doesn't really affect me," Goss said. "I don't spend too much time on the internet reading other people's stories. I'm more focussed on what I'm doing. He's going to be in good form and obviously he wants to win San Remo again. If he gets to the finish then there're not too many people who are going to be able to beat him. I don't know what's mind games and what's not. I'm just focussed on what I'm doing."
Goss, like most, was paying attention to the events at Tirreno-Adriatico in order to get some indication of how the result may play out on Saturday in San Remo.
"Sagan's going to be pretty present in the race," Goss suspects. "You've seen how well he's going on the climbs and he's still a super-fast guy in a finish, especially at the end of a hard race so for me he's got to be one of the big favourites at the minute.
"Fabian's going really well, then you've got guys like Cavendish and even Haussler. I haven't seen too many results from Paris-Nice but Haussler and Boasson Hagen who's been a bit sick - if these guys are there, they're going to be good. Maybe another big one is Bennati."