A week out from the Tour of Flanders, Filippo Pozzato's prospects remain something of an unknown quantity, and a series of mechanical problems meant that few were any the wiser as to the true state of his form following E3 Harelbeke.
Pozzato's chain slipped three times on the cobbles on Friday – he coyly admitted that he was using something slightly different to his teammates – and after spending much of his afternoon chasing the race rather than participating in it, he sat up in the finale and rolled home over five minutes down on winner Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
"I was feeling good, but I had this problem three times and I had to get back on three times. Then I was caught behind crashes a couple of times, so I spent the whole day chasing back on really," Pozzato told Cyclingnews in Kortrijk on Saturday. "We'll see what happens at Gent-Wevelgem tomorrow. I just hope I can ride the race as normal and then we'll see how I am."
The man from Sandrigo reported no further problems with his equipment after a three-hour training ride on Saturday morning, and he was optimistic that the issue has been resolved. "It seems to be a bit better, so let's hope so," he said.
Pozzato's attempts to move back up to the front after his mechanical problems on Friday were not helped by the slight alterations to the parcours at Harelbeke, which saw a number of narrower roads added to the course this year. Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) touched on the same issue after the race, although Pozzato acknowledged that such obstacles are simply part of the game in Flanders.
"I was talking to Cancellara about it on the phone last night," Pozzato said. "Maybe the old parcours was better because on this course it's easier to stay in front even if you don't really have the legs to be up there.
"But that's just the way it is in Belgium. It's not like we can go and ride on the motorway. Here it's normal that there are narrow roads and difficult courses and it's the same thing for everyone. Belgium is like that, and you just accept it."
While the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are Pozzato's obvious focus – "I'm here to try and win," he said of his prospects in the two Monuments, dismissing the notion of settling for a brace of strong showings – he said that it would be wrong to approach Gent-Wevelgem simply as a warm-up for the main events to come.
"I want to race to do well tomorrow, but we'll see," he said. "We have everything in place to do well because we've got [Sacha] Modolo too who's going very well. We'll certainly set out tomorrow with the intention of doing well, and we'll only really think about Flanders afterwards."
In theory, Lampre has a twin set of options for Gent-Wevelgem, with Pozzato briefed to follow the moves while Modolo waits for the possible bunch sprint. Now in his twelfth cobbled classics campaign, however, Pozzato is all too aware that the script is rarely followed to the letter in Flanders, where the ability to improvise is a priceless commodity.
"Like you saw on Friday, anything and everything can happen in a race of 220 kilometres," he said. "These races are a bit particular, really. You can make a lot of plans and find that nothing works out as you had in mind. It's better to take the race as it comes, live in the moment, and then hope that you're up there in the finale."
Pozzato is aware that the window is slowly closing as he bids to return to the top step of the podium in the Classics – his one and only Monument win came at the 2006 Milan-San Remo and his last Classic victory was at E3 Harelbeke five years ago – but the 32-year-old is bullish about his prospects this spring.
"I've prepared well. I've worked hard for the past four months to get to these Classics in the best possible way. Let's hope so, anyway, because the important week has arrived," he smiled. "The important thing is to go well and be in front. I believe in my chances because I know I've worked a lot and worked well, too. That's important. And let's hope I have a little bit of luck too. That never goes astray."