Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) has claimed stage victories on each of his previous visits to the Tour de San Luis and the expectation before this year’s race was that the Italian and Mark Cavendish would divide the spoils between them on the trio of flat finishes.
"I saw how strong his acceleration was when he launched his sprint on that first stage, there was nothing lucky about it," Modolo told Cyclingnews. "That said, he is further ahead in his condition than we are. He won at the Track World Cup in London in December, so it's clear he's in good shape. But I felt better in the second sprint than the first and hopefully it will be the same again on Sunday. And, besides, I'm aiming for my peak in form to be further ahead."
Like so much of the Italian gruppo, Modolo's early season is centred squarely on Milan-San Remo. The man from Conegliano made light of the 300-kilometre distance to claim a surprising fourth place finish as a raw neo-professional in 2010, but while La Primavera is broadly speaking the most accessible of the Monuments, its subtleties are exceedingly difficult to master.
Modolo's best result since that fearless debut was his eighth place last year, and he sighed as he recalled his finishing effort on the Lungomare Italo Calvino. "I went early with Cavendish," he said. "You think you have the legs but then in the end you realise that you don't… It's a totally different sprint to one at the end of a short race. You can't take anything for granted. That day I believed that I had the legs for the long sprint but I didn't."
This time around, the race returns to the format that Modolo grew up watching on television. Neither Le Manie nor the Pompeiana – originally planned for 2014 but then jettisoned – figure on the course, while the finale returns to the hallowed Via Roma for the first time since 2007. The finish line is now a kilometre closer to the summit of the Poggio and, in theory, offers attackers a greater chance of holding off the sprinters, but Modolo is enthusiastic about the change.
"I think it's the best thing for the race. We're back to the classic course, with the finish on Via Roma, which I've never done before. Now it's really Milan-San Remo," he said. "I think it's going to be more open and there are more riders with a chance of winning because we'll all be that little bit fresher in the finale.
"In any case, it's always a bit of a waiting game, a game of nerves really. In the last few years, it's also been wet and that changes a lot of things. I think I can endure that a bit better than the others, or at least, I have a physique that's better suited to the rain and cold than a lot of other riders."
After La Classicissima, Modolo travels north to Belgium for the cobbled classics, and following his stage win the Three Days of De Panne last year, he spoke enthusiastically about the prospect of discovering the Tour of Flanders and perhaps developing into a man for the pavé. De Ronde is again on his programme in 2015 but he is pragmatic about his chances of ever shining on the current parcours, with its tough finale over the Kwaremont and Paterberg.
"I've realised that Flanders is a bit prohibitive for me – not so much because it doesn't suit me but because when the big guys likes Van Avermaet and Cancellara accelerate, I can't hold them," he said. "Maybe I could have a chance if it was a negative race and you had a group of fifteen or more at the finish, but to be honest I'd see a race like Gent-Wevelgem as suiting me a lot more than the Tour of Flanders."
An outing at Paris-Roubaix, meanwhile, seems unlikely after a crash on his debut last year ultimately forced him to miss the Giro d'Italia. Modolo has yet to open his account at the corsa rosa and he is loath to miss out this season. "Well, I broke two ribs in a crash at Roubaix last year, and I don't want to miss the Giro again because of something like that," he said. "It's a big, big target this year."