Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) will go into the Tour of Flanders with a point to prove after being criticised by sectors of the Belgian media and by his team manager Andrei Tchmil for his tactics in the finale of Milan-San Remo. Pozzato used his efforts in the final kilometre to chase down Omega Pharma-Lotto's Philippe Gilbert and missed out on the final podium.
While the Italian is aware that he will be in the spotlight when he rolls up in Brugge on Sunday morning, he was keen to sound a defiant note.
“A Belgian journalist wrote that the public here hates me because I chased Gilbert at San Remo, and that he will buy a beer for anybody who supports me,” Pozzato told Gazzetta dello Sport. “So maybe on Sunday I should go on the signing-on platform in Brugge with a crate of beer for whoever supports me, namely my friends.”
Pozzato has failed to chalk up a win so far in 2011 and finished 5th in Milan-San Remo after a lacklustre sprint. He admitted that he is not riding as well as twelve months ago, when he fell ill shortly before the Tour of Flanders.
“Last year I was going very well and I had to pull out because I was ill,” he said. “This year the sensations are not as I would like, I don’t feel super. And yet it might be the right time. It’s a s**t moment in my career. To get out of it, I need to win. I’ll risk to the end.”
As well as facing external criticism, Gazzetta reports that there are tensions within the Katusha camp that could see Pozzato leave at the end of the season, and L'Equipe suggests Lampre-ISD as a possible destination. Katusha manager Andrei Tchmil was critical of Pozzato’s Milan-San Remo tactics when speaking to 7sur7.be, saying, “I’d have defended him many times but not on this one: it wasn’t up to him to go and chase Gilbert, but to the sprinters or to Cancellara… Riding behind someone and staying in his wheel, that has no sense.”
Pozzato is unhappy with Tchmil’s recent declarations, which also questioned his rider’s desire. The Italian also acknowledged that he was lacking the complete faith of the management.
“In difficult situations I need trust,” Pozzato said. “It seems clear to me that I haven’t had it. Pressure is positive if it is linked to the expectation of a result, but if it brings only criticism, it doesn’t do anyone good. Reading certain things in the newspapers hurt me because Tchmil knows how dedicated I am to cycling. I’m the opposite to how he described me.”
Looking to recapture the form of 2006
With rain forecast for Sunday, Pozzato reckons that it will be one of the tougher editions of the Tour of Flanders in recent years. He is also of the belief that the biggest threat to Fabian Cancellara’s authority will come from Gilbert rather than Tom Boonen.
“Everybody is thinking about Boonen against Cancellara, but the real favourites are Cancellara and Gilbert,” he said. “I saw Tom at Gent-Wevelgem and the two times on the Kemmel he wasn’t the man I know, even if he deserves respect.
“Me? I’d liked to go clear on the Muur and arrive alone, if I really have to dream…”
Pozzato’s best Flanders display came in 2006, when he was arguably the strongest man in the race. Fresh from victory in Milan-San Remo, and under instructions to make the race for his then teammate (and eventual winner) Boonen, Pozzato attacked the hellingen with a freedom that has been seen only intermittently since.
“It was the strongest race of my life,” Pozzato said. “But the agreement was that I would help Tom and I didn’t regret it, because he deserved it. Now the team is built around me.”