On the eve of Milan-San Remo, Filippo Pozzato (Wilier Triestina) has argued that world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) is the strongest rider of all time. Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, the 2006 winner picked out the reigning world champion as the overwhelming favourite for victory on the Via Roma on Saturday.
"Sagan is the clear favourite, even if it's never a given. Van Avermaet beat him at Het Nieuwsblad. I'll go further: For me, Sagan, who could attack early on Saturday, is the strongest rider of all time," Pozzato told Gazzetta, before outlining his rationale.
"There have never been so many riders at such a high level at the same time, and from so many different nations. In terms of material, preparation and training, everything is at the top level. And in that context, Sagan is beating both sprinters and climbers. And he has finally understood how strong he is."
Pozzato is lining out for his 49th appearance in a Monument Classic on Saturday, and only Tom Boonen (Quick-Step), who is riding in his 41st Monument, boasts a similar level of experience in the Milan-San Remo peloton. Eleven years have passed since Pozzato's lone victory in a Monument, when his then teammate acted as a foil. Pozzato went on to place second to Fabian Cancellara two years later, though he picks his debut in La Classicissima as his strongest showing. "It was my first time. I had just won Tirreno-Adriatico and I was in sensational form," Pozzato said. "I crashed on the Cipressa."
Now 35 years of age, Pozzato does not figure among the top echelon of Milan-San Remo contenders, though he was the highest-placed Italian a year ago, taking eighth in the sprint on the Via Roma. He describes Milan-San Remo as being both "democratic and elitist at the same the time."
"Democratic because it gives the hope of success to a lot of riders. Elitist because only a real rider will win it," Pozzato explained. "You don't emerge victorious by chance in a race like that, 300 kilometres long."
RCS Sport's decision not to invite Wilier Triestina to Tirreno-Adriatico this year forced Pozzato into a novel build-up to Milan-San Remo. After participating in the Tour of Oman and Tour de Langkawki, he trained in Gran Canaria last week, with the recently-retired Matteo Tosatto serving as a motor-pacer.
"I feel I need to race more than in the past. The fact that the team wasn't at Tirreno-Adriatico penalised us, so I simulated a stage race in the Canaries," Pozzato said. "On my reference climb, I beat my all-time record, and mentally, too, I feel good. I need to be calm in my head and not surrounded by people bothering me. I know how to work and I'm very motivated. But that mightn't be enough."