"Boonen is not superman"
Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) is bullish about his chances of beating Tom Boonen in a sprint on the velodrome at the end of Paris-Roubaix in spite of his defeat at the hands of the Belgian at the Tour of Flanders last weekend.
Part of the decisive three-man break at De Ronde with Boonen and Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Pozzato opted to play his hand in the sprint rather than attack Boonen on the run-in to Oudenaarde, a tactic questioned afterwards by Ballan. Speaking to reporters at the Paris-Roubaix team presentation in Compiègne on Saturday, Pozzato rejected his fellow Italian's criticism, pointing out that he had already beaten Boonen in a three-up sprint at the end of E3 Harelbeke in 2009.
"I ride my race, I don't listen to what Ballan says. I think I was right to do what I did," Pozzato said. "I've come to the finish like that with Tom twice. The first time I beat him, the second time he won, so the record is 50-50. He hasn't always won, so it's not like he scares me in the sprint. Technically he's faster and more explosive than me, but it's not impossible to beat him."
Slowly moving through the mixed zone, his eyes hidden behind designer shades, Pozzato was almost mantra-like in repeating his conviction that Boonen is indeed vulnerable. Reporter after reporter, question after question, Pozzato politely outlined his belief that he can end Boonen's recent string of success, which includes victories at E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders.
"Tom is certainly the number one favourite but he's not superman. He's not unbeatable," Pozzato said of his former teammate. "Of course he can be calm because he has won all of the recent races that he has done, but I'll play my card too. I really believe I can do it."
Long lauded by the cognoscenti of the northern classics for his grace on the pavé – Patrick Lefevere colourfully mused that you could place a glass of water on Pozzato's back on the cobbles and he wouldn't spill a drop – Pozzato has yet to convert that considerable style into victories of substance. Second place finishes at Roubaix in 2009 and Flanders last week are perhaps a meagre return for a rider of his quality, but he has enjoyed a new lease of life since his switch to Luca Scinto's Farnese Vini-Selle Italia squad over the winter.
"I think I can do it, I certainly have good condition and in Flanders I was maybe the guy who was going the strongest, but in the end Boonen won," Pozzato said. "The important thing to is to be up there tomorrow and give everything like at Flanders. If I win tomorrow, it really would be a dream come true."
Although Pozzato and Ballan reached a tacit agreement not to harm one another's interests in the final 10 kilometres in Flanders, Pozzato paid little heed to the idea that the main contenders would look to form a coalition of sorts against the favourite Boonen.
"No, I ride for my jersey, for Farnese-Selle Italia, and the other ride for their own teams. Everybody rides his own race," he said. "Besides, it's not just Boonen, there are other strong riders like Ballan, Hushovd and Flecha who can do something good."
Four-time winner Roger De Vlaeminck noted that the contenders at Paris-Roubaix must concentrate on simply surviving before they can even begin to countenance tactics, and Pozzato was in agreement with that line of thinking. "Tactically, there's not a lot to be teased out beforehand, you really just need to be up there in the finale and then decide on how to play your cards there," he said.
Sessions on the track at Montichiari have been a staple of Pozzato's winter preparation in recent years. Time will tell if that is enough for him to look to play his final hand on the Roubaix velodrome on Sunday afternoon.