Most of the pre-Milan-San Remo talk may be focusing on Peter Sagan, especially in the wake of the comments made by Fabian Cancellara, but there are plenty of other potential contenders for the title, including as many as three at BMC Racing.
The Norwegian’s long battle against a debilitating virus began at this point last season, but Hushovd believes he’s now getting back to the kind of form that he enjoyed two years before he joined BMC.
Gilbert also said he was in better shape than last year, although he prefaced his insight into San Remo with an apologetic explanation of comments he had made about the Lion of Flanders being waved at the World Championships. Speaking in French and then in Flemish, the world champion said: “You all know there’s been some polemic. I regret the way in which those words came out. I neglected to re-read the article and I authorised it and it was my fault. I accept the consequences of that because it was my fault.
“Everyone knows that I am Belgian and proud of being so. I’ve got very good Flemish and Walloon friends. As far as politics goes, I’m not a connoisseur, especially as Belgian politics is quite complex. I didn’t explain myself well.”
Moving on to safer ground with San Remo, Gilbert described himself as feeling “much better than last year”. He went on to explain: “I finished Paris-Nice with good condition. I was doing a lot of work to protect Tejay [van Garderen] and took second place on the stage into Nice. That gave me confidence. It’s not winning but at least it’s close. I’ve got the experience, I’ve got the condition, and I also have a strong team. We all know that San Remo is a difficult race. It’s always a question of taking the right decision at the right moment.”
BMC’s third leader, Greg Van Avermaet, said that the team will wait until Saturday before making a final decision on tactics. “It’s always hard to say what will happen because it’s 300km and so many things can go wrong. But we will see tomorrow how the weather is and how the roads are,” said the Belgian.
For the moment, the forecast is for heavy rain on Sunday. Hushovd acknowledged this will change the complexion of the contest. “It’s going to be a different race. It’s going to be a harder race because it will make greater energy demands on the body, and it will probably be a longer race in terms of the time it takes to complete it,” he said.
Picking up on this, Gilbert explained: “If it is wet it will mean that you win the race on the descents and not on the climbs, because the descents become very slippery and technical. We saw it like that [in 2011] when Oscar Freire crashed on the descent of Le Manie, and there were 25-30 guys up there and the race was over for the rest. I think it could be the same. There are a lot of corners and if the riders at the front go quickly then those behind have to take risks and then they can crash. If it’s wet there’s no doubt the decision will be made on the descents, maybe even as early as the Turchino because it’s also fast and technical.”
Responding to the inevitable question about Peter Sagan, Gilbert said the Slovak had been “impressive” at Tirreno. “But,” he added, “we will see now whether he has recovered or not. After a week’s racing it’s not always certain that you can recover.”
Asked about Cancellara’s comments that he wouldn’t pull if he got away with Sagan, the world champion joked: “If it’s only him and me then he will have to pull more than me because he’s faster. Then at least I would have a chance in the sprint.” He said of the tactic itself:
Gilbert then went on to point out that there are plenty of other riders that will need watching besides Sagan, notably “the Sky guys, who are coming straight from a camp and trying a new tactic of not racing at Tirreno or Paris-Nice beforehand.”
Alongside BMC’s three leaders was Taylor Phinney, who admitted that San Remo is a race that he believes he can win one day. This Sunday, though, his hope is to help his team leaders as much and for as long as he can. “I had kind of a mediocre San Remo last year. I’ve yet to prove myself in a race like this, but I think we’ve got the team to have everybody in there in the final helping the boys out for the win and I hope to be one of those riders,” said the American, who was dropped on Le Manie last year.
Reflecting on what was his debut in the race, he added: “The main thing that stood out was the fact that it’s 300k but it went by very quickly. You keep hitting these climbs, whether it’s the Turchino, the Manie or the rest. They come a lot faster than you think. It’s one my favourite races because it is so epic.”