Despite the presence of Julian Alaphilippe, Sam Bennett and Davide Ballerini in their Milan-San Remo line-up, Deceuninck-QuickStep directeur sportif Davide Bramati has insisted that they are "not the favourites for this edition".
While the road to victory on the Via Roma appears to run through Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), who notched up two stage wins apiece at Tirreno-Adriatico, Alaphilippe, Bennett and Ballerini have all showcased their form ahead of La Primavera.
The world champion Alaphilippe won Milan-San Remo in 2019, and he warmed up for this year’s race with second place at Strade Bianche and a stage win at Tirreno-Adriatico.
Bennett won two stages at Paris-Nice and has made a target of La Classicissima this year, while the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Ballerini provides Deceuninck-QuickStep with another option in the event of a sprint.
"In the past couple of years, we have always featured in the finale at San Remo. We won’t hide the fact that we would like to do it again this Saturday, but at the same time we know that we are not the favourites for this edition," Bramati said in a statement on Wednesday.
"On the other hand, the riders are really keen on doing their best in this first Monument of the season and we’ll just see what happens."
On both pedigree and form, Alaphilippe looks the man most likely to deny Van Aert or Van der Poel this Saturday. The Frenchman has a fine record in the race, placing on the podium in three of his four appearances. As well as his victory two years ago, he took third after escaping with Michał Kwiatkowski and Peter Sagan over the Poggio in 2017 and placed second in a two-up sprint against Van Aert in last season’s rescheduled edition.
"I love Milan-San Remo, it’s such a great race and I’m happy to be heading there again. Doing it in the rainbow jersey this year makes it even more special and exciting," said Alaphilippe.
"My season so far was good, the condition has been improving since my first race of the year and also the confidence is there. We have a strong and very motivated team and we hope to be there when it will matter."
Alaphilippe, Bennett and Ballerini are joined in the Deceuninck-QuickStep line-up by Kasper Asgreen, Tim Declercq, Zdenek Štybar and Yves Lampaert.
Bennett is making his sixth appearance at Milan-San Remo. The Irishman has yet to make it over the Cipressa and Poggio in the front group but he told Cyclingnews this winter that the race was an objective in 2021.
"I never seem to have hit top form for Milan-San Remo, I always came in just under where I needed to be, so to get there and finally perform would be great," Bennett said.
"I’ve got closer in the last two years to being in the final, but I wasn’t strong enough. I know if I was on my peak, I could get over the Poggio pretty well – maybe not attacking with the guys, but I would definitely be in the bunch."
Deceuninck-QuickStep for Milan-San Remo
Julian Alaphilippe (Fra)
Kasper Asgreen (Den)
Davide Ballerini (Ita)
Sam Bennett (Irl)
Tim Declercq (Bel)
Yves Lampaert (Bel)
Zdenek Štybar (Cze)
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