After finishing Montepaschi Strade Bianche on Saturday HTC-Columbia riders including Michael Rogers and Mark Cavendish began a two-day reconnaissance of the course for this month's Milan-Sanremo.
Rogers and Cavendish were joined by Marco Pinotti, Bernhard Eisel, Lars Bak and Peter Velits. On Sunday the group rode over the final seventy kilometres of the Milan-Sanremo parcours, and today they plan to ride the crucial three climbs that come before the finish. The two-day excursion will play a key role in Mark Cavendish's defence of his Sanremo crown.
“It’s just for a bit of refresh on how the race works,” Rogers told Cyclingnews.
“The majority of the guys here will ride Sanremo. Most of the guys from Tirreno will ride Sanremo in fact; it’s an ideal kind of lead up.”
Although Cavendish won Sanremo in a thrilling sprint last spring, much of the work in the lead-up was done by his Columbia teammates, who kept the bunch together in the event's latter stages. Many of the riders in that successful combination have since left the team, with Edvald Boasson Hagen, Thomas Lövkvist, George Hincapie, and Michael Barry switching squads, while Mark Renshaw is ruled out this year through illness, leaving Columbia with a new line-up for this year’s race.
“We haven’t really talked about specific roles yet,” Rogers added. “We’ll do that after Tirrreno. We don’t have the big names from last year, but I believe that everyone is at a good level and if we can ride with a specific goal and everyone accomplishes that then we can get it down to a sprint where Cav can do his thing.”
With Rogers’ proven endurance and ability to ride tempo on the climbs he could be a valuable ally for Cavendish on the late-race ascents of the Cipressa and Poggio, where peloton-splitting attacks often take place.
“I may have to wait until the last two climbs and then well see what happens in the race. If there’s an attack then it’s going to come on somewhere like the Cipressa or even on the Poggio so I’ll have to cover them and see what happens. A lot of teams will have to do a lot of attacking.”
“We’ll still have strong guys there but you know Sanmremo is a hard one to win but an easy one to lose.”
Rogers participation at Sanremo will come off the back of one of his strongest starts to a season after he finished third in last week’s Montepaschi Strade Bianche and took his first stage win in over five years at the La Ruta de Sol. While he admits that the latter, Spanish event is not the biggest stage race on the planet, the Australian believes he’s building up nicely ahead of this year’s Tour de France.
“It was really exciting. I worked really hard in the winter so it was nice to get a bit of a payback. It’s been a while since I won a stage race, obviously La Ruta isn’t the biggest stage race of the year but it think it’s a good sign that I’m back on track for this year and it as an important that my team saw that I was in good condition. For me personally, it was a very important victory.”