Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) struck for the second time in a week at Tirreno-Adriatico, once again edging out Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) in a close finish, but the German remained on the fence regarding his participation in this weekend's Milan-San Remo.
Kittel, 29, has never raced the Italian one-day Classic but has fielded questions over his possible inclusion since the start of the year. The momentum behind those cross-examinations has only snowballed – pushed along by Kittel's growing form and his decision to tease the media over race programme.
"You'll get an answer after Tirreno as to what's going to happen," he said after winning the penultimate stage on the coastline.
"The plan is to decide how I feel after here. Obviously, I feel good and winning two stages is a good sign. We'll decide about Milan-San Remo after the time trial tomorrow. I'll try and recover, try and stay healthy and that's all I have in my head at the moment."
The question has to be asked: given his form and the way in which his Katusha-Alpecin team has clicked in recent weeks, why wouldn't he challenge himself with Milan-San Remo? Cyclingnews put that to him in his winner's press conference in Fano.
"Good question," he said after a lengthy pause.
"Basically, nothing, but you know how it is. As I've said before, if we take the decision to go to Milan-San Remo then I want to go there to learn about the race because I have no clue as to what the race is going to be like. I'll go there with the best intentions but I want a free role for the race. It's a very competitive field and it's hard to go there without experience. That's why I'd like that freedom there for myself but that's something that needs to be decided with the team."
"I don't want to make this topic too big for me," he added.
Kittel's lacking Milan-San Remo experience opens the door for doubts regarding his chances of getting over the Poggio and Cipressa with the leaders. However, few expected Mark Cavendish could survive the two climbs in 2009, yet he did. The intervening years have shown just how difficult a case Milan-San Remo can be when it comes to predictions. Kittel may not know the answers either but few would criticize his decision to try.
"I would be really happy to start there and I would look forward to it but the decision on who would be there in the final, I can't say. It really depends on how the race goes. If you look to the last years it was always a group of all-rounders and that's also an evolution. It's going be very hard for a sprinter to be in the front."
On Monday, Kittel and Katusha-Alpecin weathered the storm of a sketchy course and a late fightback from Peter Sagan to take the win. Tirreno has demonstrated just how far Kittel and his new lead-out have come in a matter of weeks. They look like a unit, rather than a collection of individuals.
"You either needed some good timing or like us, to go with high speed into the final corner, with around 350m to go. But in general, the course was okay. Some of the roads here are quite demanding, not just of the riders but also on the bikes. It's quite a test.
"We tried to sit in a good position and take the race lead in the final five kilometres and we had a tailwind. It was super fast and we had Tony Martin and Alex Dowsett there. Then Rick Zabel and I could just wait for the final corner before being a good position.
"The two stage wins are a result of the work and talks we invested in improving our lead-out in the races in the Middle East. The team has a big potential for lead-outs with Haas, Martin, Haller, Zabel and Dowsett. Everyone has awesome motivation right, and it's great for the psychology. So I just want to run with it and keep it going."
Surely that means a start in Milan next weekend.
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