Cyclingnews will have live coverage of Milan-San Remo from 8am GMT on Saturday, March 19.
Peter Sagan, Alexander Kristoff and Fabian Cancellara attended the final pre-Milan-San Remo press conference with the mayor of Milan on Friday afternoon, sharing their final thoughts before the race and then posing with a birthday cake that was given to Cancellara to celebrate his 35th birthday.
The event was stage-managed by race organiser RCS Sport with the mayor using the event to promote cycling in the city and reveal that the Vigorelli velodrome will finally reopen in May after being saved from demolition and undergoing a major renovation.
Kristoff arrived first in the Milan city hall, opposite the Scala opera House. He was sporting a long quiff of hair on the top of his head that put even Sagan’s blonde mane to shame. Surprisingly Cancellara was a little late, with the mayor Giuliano Pisapia forced to pose for a second photo opportunity with the trio of Milan-San Remo contenders.
The opening speeches came from RCS Sport president Riccardo Taranto, Gazzetta dello Sport editor Andrea Monti and even the head of cycling at RCS Sport Mauro Vegni. Sagan, Kristoff and Cancellara tried hard not to look bored or show disappointment at missing out on a final nap before Milan-San Remo. Sagan opted to constantly smile but let slip a yawn at one point.
When it finally became time for the riders to talk, the questions were carefully controlled, with the first about the expected warm weather for the race. It was close on 20C in central Milan, when it is supposed to be cold and wintery. Forecasts predict the same for San Remo on Saturday.
“I think everyone prefers nice weather because nobody likes to freeze in a long race,” Kristoff said. "I know I don’t ride badly in the cold weather but I prefer the good weather."
Cancellara agreed, knowing his last ever Milan-San Remo will be raced in the sun.
“I prefer this weather too because the last few years have been tough but the weather is the same for everyone,” he said. "With nice weather it will be a different race again but I’ll be trying to enjoy it from start to finish."
Sagan was clearly in a funny mood, and when asked his thoughts he said: “I fully agree with the other guys at 50 per cent.”
Cancellara refused to get nostalgic about his final appearance at Milan-San Remo despite an enviable track record. He has ridden La Classicissima nine times during his career, finished on the podium five times and won it once, in 2008.
“I’ll race like any other year even if it’s my last,” he said. “I just want to do as well as possible. Milan-San Remo is 300km long and it’s the most difficult Classic to win because it’s the most complicated. We’ll see how things evolve from the Cipressa onwards. We’ve seen a lot of riders going well this year and there are a lot of favourites amongst the sprinters and the attackers. I’m sure it’ll be a great day of cycling, let's see what happens on the road.”
Kristoff’s regrets about 2015, Sagan’s Italian shrug
Kristoff still regrets starting his sprint too early in 2015 and admitted his Katusha teammates will have to step up and replace Luca Paolini – who lead him out into Via Roma but tested positive for cocaine at the Tour de France and is currently waiting to know his fate after a recent UCI disciplinary hearing.
“I’ll try to follow these guys on the climbs as they make the race hard and use my teammates to keep the race together," the Norwegian said. “I’m sure others will try to break it up. Before thinking about the sprint I’ll have to get there first, then I’ll worry about what to do in Via Roma.
“It will be difficult without Luca, he was there last year and almost took me to the line. I wish he were here with us. My teammates will have to step up and fill the gap he’s left.”
As Kristoff talked, Sagan flicked through a copy of the Milan-San Remo road book. When he was asked if he would perhaps try to attack alone on the Poggio, just as he did to win he world road race title in Richmond, his answer was short and did not reveal his plans.
“Boh!” he said, which is the Italian equivalent of a shrug of the shoulders.
Cancellara was equally nonplussed about a question of forming an alliance with Vincenzo Nibali, as the Italian had called for in an interview with today’s Gazzetta dello Sport. Nibali warned about the sprinter’s preferring a catenaccio tactic, Cancellara replied with a tranquillo game plan.
“He’s got his ideas and we’ve got ours,” Cancellara said. “He’ll race as he wants, but he’s not the only one to think that way. He’s got to do something on the Cipressa to drop the sprinters; others have responsibility too, including Sagan, Van Avermaet, Matthews and Kristoff too. I’ve already won, I can stay tranquillo and wait for the others to move.”
Sagan faced the final question and gave his longest answer of the press conference when asked what he’d learnt from his three defeats at Milan-San Remo.
“I like this race for sure,” he said, biting his lip. “I’ve been close three times even if didn’t feel great on two occasions. I’ll see how I go this year. Lets see how everyone goes. Then we’ll decide out on the road.”
With that, a waiter arrived carrying a huge cream cake decorated with the Milan-San Remo logo, and people began to sing Happy birthday to Cancellara. Sagan cheekily tasted the cream but quickly made for the exit. Cancellara was immediately on his wheel as they left the building, leaving Kristoff to face an interminable number of questions from the Norwegian media.
They will no doubt be hoping for a similar scenario on the Poggio on Saturday afternoon.
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