Etixx-QuickStep Sport and Development Manager Rolf Aldag believes that one of his team’s strengths for the upcoming Milan-San Remo is that the Belgian squad has various options for a race which is often unpredictable in the extreme.
Aldag himself knows Milan-San Remo well as a rider, taking part in it over ten times in support of Erik Zabel, the four times winner. Given La Primavera is a race where in the critical last third the scenarios are altering constantly, as a director and rider in turn Aldag believes that means you have to be continuously thinking about the changes that demands.
“It’s not like Fleche Wallonne, say, where if you’ve got the best uphill sprinter and if you deliver him to the foot of the Mur and he’s in a good position, that’s basically it, he will win that race. Milan-San Remo is just not that simple.”
Although Tom Boonen’s absence through injury will obviously be a setback for Etixx-Quick Step - amongst other reasons, the Belgian finished third behind Oscar Freire and Allan Davis on the Via Roma finish back in 2007 - Zdenek Stybar, Mark Cavendish and Michal Kwiatkowski will all figure in different ways in the Belgian squad’s end-of-race plans for Sunday.
Although Kwiatkowski has yet to finish Milan-San Remo in two participations, “Kwia’ is always important because he’s one of the best bike riders in the world, so it’s always good to have him.”
“He wants to see how far he can get and what he can he do, because in bad weather in the past he’s suffered badly on the Turchino already, so it’s going to be a new experience for him. If he gets there like he should do, then purely from the shape he has” - with a second place in Paris-Nice his most recent success - “then he can do everything. He can go with the best on the climbs, he can go with the best on the downhills, he can lead out and he can sprint. That’s why also he’s World Champion.”
“If it comes down a pure sprint, though, there’s no question that Cavendish is faster but we want to keep that flexibility. Basically that is our biggest asset that we [Etixx-Quick Step] have right now.”
“It’s difficult to define anything though, because we have to see how the race develops and maybe not play such a super-active role, because it’s not like” - if Etixx-Quick Step had one gameplan based around breakaways alone - “we have to eliminate the sprinters on the Turchino. And make the race as hard as we can. We can kind of follow.”
Stybar is yet another potential card to play for Etixx-Quick Step. “He’s a different option, and you can’t really rank them, say first choice him, second that and third that. It really depends on how the race unfolds and Stybar might be the best choice we have. We have to ask ourselves what the best option is how to win this race and that might change two times during the race. We just don’t know yet. That’s what makes Milan-San Remo so interesting.”
Aldag argues that the much-discussed changes in Milan-Sanremo’s finale, with the re-introduction of the Via Roma, will not have a huge effect on the race. “To be honest, if you look back, when people were together [before the Via Roma] they stay together, so it doesn’t change too much. Whether you have an extra kilometre or you don’t, if you are dropped on the Poggio, you will stay dropped.” Aldag believes, either way, that sprinters may not be ideally placed with the ‘new’ Via Roma finish, but that “it’s never the case that a sprinter couldn’t get back to the front at all after the Poggio because of that shortened distance.”
“It does give you [the sprinters] less time to get into position [for a bunch sprint], but on the other hand it does give you [the breakaways] less time to play around and to attack, either. So I don’t see it as a big, big change.”