Katusha set to defend Kristoff's Milan-San Remo title

Paolini a key to victory

The Katusha team announced the seven riders who will support Norwegian Alexander Kristoff in his bid to be the first back-to-back champion of Milan-San Remo since Eric Zabel. Kristoff had but one stage win in the Tour of Oman under his belt when he powered to the sprint victory last year in Sanremo, but so far this year he's racked up five victories: three in Tour of Qatar, one in Oman and a commanding sprint win in the first road stage of Paris-Nice.

Kristoff clearly has the form and speed to win, but no Monument is won alone. Key to Kristoff's defense will be Italian Luca Paolini. The feisty Italian has been a regular protagonist in the finish of La Classicissima, either working for sprinters like Kristoff or Oscar Freire, following attacks or sprinting to a podium finish, as he did in 2006. Paolini was a key to Kristoff's victory last year, closing gaps and leading his teammate into the final sprint.

The team gets added firepower for the predicted large bunch sprint on the return to the traditional Via Roma finish, with fast man Jacopo Guarnieri and GP Nobili podium finisher Marco Haller in the mix. Gatis Smukulis, Dmitriy Kozonchuk, Alexander Kolobnev and Sergey Lagutin round out the team.

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