By Gregor Brown in Gruson, France
Filippo Pozzato heads into Paris-Roubaix this Sunday with only one goal in mind: "to win". Katusha's charismatic Italian has to beat old teammate and the defending champion Tom Boonen, who he intends to control all the way to the velodrome in Roubaix.
"If you have the strongest rider out there it is normal that the others use him as a reference point," said Pozzato. "I raced this way at Flanders because I did not feel super. Boonen is the favourite for Sunday so it is clear that everyone will watch him and keep him in check."
Pozzato attacked several times in Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen, but always found himself out-numbered by Boonen's Quick Step team. Once Devolder attacked on the Eikenmolen to join teammate Sylvain Chavanel, Pozzato had to re-group with teammate Serguei Ivanov and mark Boonen.
One week on, Pozzato is preparing for northern France's Paris-Roubaix. The race, 259 kilometres in length, takes in many of the old cobbled roads that used to be the main pathways for French farmers.
Pozzato expects that Quick Step will send Chavanel in an early escape, but that he will mark Boonen and Ronde winner Devolder. However, his E3 Prijs win and Sunday's performance gives him the confidence to overcome the Belgian team and his other rivals.
"You have to give the race respect. If the course is dry then the rider with the legs will be the one who wins and not someone who just draws the lucky card. This is the best for everyone."
Bookies give 'Pippo' Pozzato 1:12 odds to win, the same as Swiss Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank). Boonen has the best odds, 1:3.5, and Devolder has 1:7.
"Definitely, I can do something there. I know [Juan Antonio] Flecha is going very well: in Flanders he flatted and bridged back, he crashed and bridged back, and then he attacks in the finale. You have to count him in with Boonen as one of the favourites.
"I think Cancellara will have a good Roubaix, his form is still rising. George Hincapie? He has the ability to stay up front, but he is not one of those that can make the difference. Maybe I am mistaken, but he seems to have the constant rhythm, but maybe not one who can make the difference."
"If I get on the podium it would be nice, but I am here to win. If I only get second there will be all sorts of [negative] articles in the paper the next day."
Pozzato knows that home there are millions of Italians who will cheer him on this Easter Sunday. He remembers himself doing the same when he was a small boy in Sandrigo, yelling for Franco Ballerini or Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle to win.