As the directeur sportif of the 25 Milan-San Remo teams gathered at the race headquarters in Milan for the tradition 'punzonatura' on Friday, collecting their rider numbers, one rider emerged as absolute favourite: Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).
The three-time world champion confirmed he is on form with three second places at Tirreno-Adriatico and seems determined to make up for losing to Michal Kwiatkowski in 2017.
Cyclingnews asked several directeur sportif two simple questions: Who will win Milan-San Remo? And how? Sagan's name dominated their answers, as the expected winner on Saturday and for the way he can win with an attack on the Poggio or in a sprint finish in Via Roma.
Only Sagan's directeur sportif Patxi Vila was cautious about naming Sagan as the favourite, but only for reasons of superstition.
Vila has carefully planned the Bora-Hansgrohe tactics in the hope that Sagan finally wins Milan-San Remo on his eighth attempt. Everyone else admitted they have been struggling to find a way to stop Sagan winning and set up their leader.
"Let's hope Peter wins. I trust him to do the job but Kwiato won last year and showed by winning Tirreno-Adriatico that he's on form," Vila said.
"I think there will be an attack on the Poggio, with the race decided in a small group sprint. I don't think there will be not more than five."
Rain is expected in Milan for the start, but drier conditions are forecast for the finish in San Remo in the afternoon.
"This year's winner will be someone who can handle a cold wet start in Milan and conserve energy for the expected dry, and so fast, finish,” Matt White of Mitchelton-Scott told Cyclingnews.
“It’s a 300km race. They say it's the easiest monument to ride but the trickiest to win. There's not too many tactics involved and people rarely win by attacking anywhere but on the Poggio, off the Poggio or in the sprint. Nobody is going anywhere on the Cipressa," White said.
"It'll all comes down to those final five minutes on the Poggio, and so I think Peter Sagan is the favourite. He could try either of the tactics or all of them at the same time."
Stefano Zanatta of Bardiani-CSF agreed. He worked with Sagan when the Slovakian was a rough diamond at Liquigas and knows his potential and hunger for success.
"It's going to be decided with a solo attack on the Poggio from Peter Sagan, and he'll win," Zanatta said brazenly. "He still hasn't won it and still hasn't won this month. I know him, he'll be especially hungry this year."
Cofidis' Laporte to pull off a miracle and beat Sagan
Highly respected Italian directeur sportif Roberto Damiani is working with Cofidis this season. He was involved in the decision to leave Nacer Bouhanni out of the seven-rider Cofidis line-up after the sprinter suffered with bronchitis at Paris-Nice. Cofidis is hoping that Christophe Laporte can produce a miracle and perhaps beat Sagan in San Remo.
"It's going to be a sprint finish, and Laporte will win!" Damiani said, defending his leader. "But of course Sagan is the favourite. We can only hope to beat him and we will always try to win."
Damiani took time to explain why Bouhanni will not take on Sagan, insisting their was no crack forming in their relationship.
"He was struck with a nasty bronchitis at Paris-Nice and we believe he isn't in great shape. Like every rider at Cofidis, Bouhanni knows that only the strongest, fittest riders can be selected for the biggest races," Damiani said.
"Milan-San Remo is a special race. I'm really pleased to see that he was hungry to race, but we've always got to put the good of the team before the good of everyone. He's understand that and accepts that."
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