The Belgian team have Julian Alaphilippe, Zdenek Stybar and Philippe Gilbert for an attacking, aggressive scenario on the Cipressa and Poggio, while Elia Viviani and trusted lead-out man Max Richeze can hide in the peloton and wait for a high-speed sprint up the Via Roma.
After their run of early-season success, with 18 victories and domination in one-day races, Milan-San Remo is theirs to lose, but that does not frighten the self-styled 'Wolf Pack'.
"We’re perhaps under pressure as a team but we live with pressure. Big riders need pressure to win," Viviani responded.
"We play on our strength, we’ve shown that many times in the Classics and we showed in the last sprint at Tirreno-Adriatico, when I waited, Max did a great lead out and so Alaphilippe was two bikes ahead and won. Our rivals don’t know how we will race and that further strengthens our hand.
"All the team is in super good shape and that can help each leader to share the pressure. We also know we have really strong helpers, the group is amazingly strong. As a team we can do something crazy."
Viviani will fly the flag for Italy at Milan-San Remo, racing in the Italian national champion’s ‘tricolore’ jersey he won last June. He is the only Italian to win a WorldTour race this season and, with Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) not expected to take a second consecutive victory, the hopes of the home nation weigh on Viviani’s green, white and red-coloured shoulders.
After his move from Team Sky to Deceuninck-QuickStep, which has seen him focus fully on road racing for the last 18 months, Viviani feels that Milan-San Remo is within his grasp.
"I’m never going to be close to winning Milan-San Remo every year. For sure, Gaviria, Sagan will always have more of a chance than I will, but as I always remember, I won an Olympic gold medal without being a favourite. I think I’ve got a chance of victory in my legs," Viviani said.
"I can feel I’m close to my best and hope to be perfect for Milan-San Remo after recovering from Tirreno-Adriatico. But it’s what happens during that long, long race that counts in the end. Milan-San Remo is almost an obsession for me, but I don’t want to get sick in my head about it - that only creates negatives. I want to enjoy the day, try do everything perfectly, and try to win."
Gilbert, Stybar and especially Alaphilippe are expected to have the freedom to go on the attack on the Poggio but Viviani is Deceuninck-QuickStep’s final card if the attacks cancel each other out and the race comes back together on the descent to San Remo.
"The only way I can win Milan-San Remo is in a sprint," Viviani said. "For sure they’re going to attack on the Poggio but I hope as late as possible. At the famous corner at the end of the Poggio, I hope that they don’t have more than 10 seconds, so we can close that gap. Hopefully Max (Richeze) is there to lead me out in the Via Roma so I can then go for a clean but short sprint. Going long can be a mistake, as I learnt last year. Fortunately it was only the sprint for second place."
Deceuninck-QuickStep opted to select Yves Lampaert and Tim Declercq as key domestiques, leaving out lead-out men Fabio Sabatini and Michael Mørkøv. That indicates that they may prefer their chances in an aggressive race. But if the peloton reforms on the descent of the Poggio, Viviani believes Alaphilippe will stay loyal to Deceuninck-QuickStep end game strategy.
"He’s the man for us on the Poggio but if we go over top together, then he’ll work 100 per cent for me in the sprint. I trust him to do that," he concluded.
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