Katusha's Robbie McEwen will miss Saturday's Milan-San Remo, with his Russian ProTour team to place their hopes of victory in hands of Filippo Pozzato. McEwen predicted Tom Boonen (Quick Step) as the favourite for Saturday's race.
McEwen rode alongside Pozzato at Tirreno-Adriatico, where the Australian showed strong sprint form on two stages. Despite his condition, Katusha have decided to bet against a mass-sprint finale in San Remo.
"It was the team's decision. I was prepared and ready to ride, but the team's elected to build the team around Pozzato and ride for one leader," McEwen told Cyclingnews on Wednesday. "I would have liked to ride, but my team has decided to go without a sprinter and I have to respect that decision."
Although disappointed to miss out on an eighth attempt at the Italian Classic, McEwen said the race will provide the ultimate assessment of his team's tactics.
"My form's good. I got through Tirreno and it was a hard race. I was fourth on the stage to Montecatini Terme which was a bit like a mini Milan-San Remo," he said.
"But Pozzato's also riding well. Milan-San Remo's completely unpredictable. You can expect one thing and you'll get something completely different. You can plan all you want, but you'll only know afterwards whether it was the right way to go or not."
Boonen the man to beat
McEwen had little hesitation in naming Tom Boonen at the front of his list of favourites. The Quick Step star rode to his first ever victory on Italian soil last week at Tirreno-Adriatico, and McEwen believes the Belgian's climbing form could see him break his duck at the Italian monument.
"Pozzato's one of a number of guys that can win it, but there's probably 10 to 12 other guys that are contenders," McEwen said of his own teammates chances. "Boonen and [Liquigas' Daniele] Bennati are the favourites, with [Lampre's Alessandro] Petacchi just behind them. [Sky's Edvald] Boasson Hagen's a threat because he can sprint or go with the attacks."
Boonen has himself named Bennati as the biggest threat for the race, but based on his observations of the two at Tirreno this week, McEwen feels that order should be reversed.
"I think Boonen's the outright favourite. I don't think there's anyone who could ride him off their wheel uphill at the moment. Bennati's also climbing well. But it is Milan-San Remo; anything can happen."
While Pozzato will now be equipped with Katusha's outright support as he goes in search of a repeat of his 2006 victory in San Remo, McEwen will instead "focus on the races I've got coming up."
McEwen's next race will be Dwars Door Vlaanderen, in Belgium next Wednesday.
Team Katusha for the 101st Milan-San Remo: Filippo Pozzato, Marco Bandiera, Mikhail Ignatiev, Serguei Ivanov, Kim Kirchen, Luca Mazzanti, Alexandr Kolobnev and Eduard Vorganov .