"Who has the legs will arrive; who doesn't will die."
Filippo Pozzato will captain a Ronde van Vlaanderen team for the first time in his six years as a professional. This Sunday the rider from Veneto, winner of last year's Milano-Sanremo, will line up as head of the Liquigas squad.
"The first time I came to Belgium was in 2000, I was 18 years-old, a neo-pro," recalled Pozzato to Marco Pastonesi of La Gazzetta dello Sport. "It was a like a university; I was enrolled in minor classes but there were lots of feelings. Flanders is an enormous race, a Monument; imagine to think that for Tom Boonen it is the biggest race of the year, his true World Championships. You really have no idea how much it takes to win it."
After playing super-domestique to Boonen last year, 'Pippo' is now in a captain's role. He explained that he is prepared for this position. "I have already raced as a captain in the Haut Var and Het Volk. ... It is normal that there is some tension, it would be sad if there was only tranquility. One year ago, when I rode for Boonen, I had a lot (of) responsibilities. This year I have more stimuli."
Riding alongside Pozzato will be an in-form Luca Paolini. The 30 year-old rider from Milan showed his class by taking Three Days of De Panne stage one this last Tuesday, and, thus, has become a strong ally. "It is better that he is there, up front. Luca is in great condition. For there to be two of us in a decisive moment is always an advantage."
The Belgian fans are studious and they remember 'Pippo' from his day's under Patrick Lefevere's command at Mapei or his years spent riding in service of Boonen, and now they cheer him on like one of their own champions. "To win is a dream and to participate is a pleasure. Here cycling lives," he summarized. "The people recognise every cyclist, from the first to the last. And there is respect, applause and encouragement."
This year the organizers have struck the Koppenberg from the list of Hellingen ('climbs') but Pozzato reckons there will be other race-making zones. "Everything in the last seventy kilometres could be decisive," he said with a grin. "Up to last year the decisive point was the Koppenberg, this year it could be the Grammont."
The forecast for Sunday is sunny and warm. "There is expected to be good temperatures; sun and 20°C. People will be in shorts and t-shirts, like summer. Rain and cold make some selection but here the course is hard anyway. Who has the legs will arrive; who doesn't will die."
He will keep his eye on the entire Quick-Step team. "But they are only human, so they are beatable. ... Then there are Fabian Cancellara, he is going strong, Nick Nuyens, Kim Kirchen... Paolini, [Alessandro] Ballan and [Daniele] Bennati."