Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) is convinced he can still be a contender in the cobbled Classics in 2014 despite a terrible spring campaign and further questions about his desire and dedication to training in the Italian media.
The Monaco-based Italian won the Trofeo Laigueglia in mid-February but was well down the result sheet in March and April and only turned his season around in late summer, when he won the GP Ouest France in Plouay and so secured a place in the Italian team for he world championships.
The hilly Fiesole Worlds finishing circuit proved too tough for all the Classics riders, with Pozzato finishing 17th, 1:05 behind his future Lampre-Merida teammate Rui Costa. Peter Sagan, Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert did a little better finishing 34 seconds back but Pozzato proved he deserved his place in the Italian "Squadra".
Pozzato was once considered a future star of Italian cycling after turning professional at just 18. He often showed signs of his ability and class, winning Milan-San Remo in 2006 but has struggled to secure further major victories. He is now 32 and has served a three-month ban for working with Dr. Michele Ferrari. His palmares are packed with placings but also regret and excuses.
His 2013 spring campaign was disastrous but he claims there is a reason.
"I can't be satisfied with my season if I look at the first part but I'm happy with the second part of the year because I won some important races," he told Cyclingnews.
"There was a reason I didn’t do well in the Classics: I had a virus. I only realised what the problem was after the Classics. I didn't go out of my way to tell people because I know they'd say it was just an excuse. I was flying when Laigueglia but felt tired in the Classics and only found out why afterwards."
Back on form
Pozzato recovered to ride the Giro d'Italia, taking a few placings and riding for team leader Michele Scarponi. He got his season back on track by riding the Tour of Qinghai Lake in China in July, instead of the Tour de France.
Victories at the Coppa Agostoni and GP Ouest France, and fifth place in the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal earned him spot in the Italian team. Pozzato was the only one who earned his place by winning races.
"I think my performance in August and September were pretty good. I finished in the top ten in the last seven races I rode," he pointed out.
"At the world championships it was impossible to stay with Nibali, Rodriguez, Costa and Valverde. We were unlucky that Vincenzo crashed with Paolini, otherwise we would have controlled the finale much more."
"I could have finished sixth or seventh but it wouldn't have made much difference to me. I could have at least been able to finish with Sagan and Cancellara. Instead I was dropped just before they were."
"Some parts of the Italian media had a go at me for that but I'm not bothered. I never said I'd win the worlds, they said I could. People like to have a go at me on social media and stuff but I don’t care what people think or what's written about me by the media."
Unhappy about the new Milan-San Remo
Pozzato's first goal of 2014 will again be Milan-San Remo. But he is not happy about the addition of the Pompeiana climb, between the Cipressa and the Poggio.
"It's going to be more difficult for me now and It's not really Milan-San Remo anymore," he lamented.
"I honestly don’t think it'll have the same magic as in the past because the race won't be finally balanced."
"A five-kilometre climb will make a big difference in the finale of the race after 280km. Next year the pure sprinter like Mark Cavendish won’t have a chance of winning. Milan-San Remo was special because Cavendish could win it but so could Grand Tour riders Nibali."
"I was somewhere in the middle but now it's more suited to riders who can climb pretty well, riders who do well in Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico could win it."
The new route could suit Pozzato's new teammate Rui Costa. The Portuguese rider will target the Ardennes Classics and the Tour de France but Pozzato insists he's not bothered about being overshadowed by the world champion and his rainbow jersey.
"We're different kind of riders and so we're have largely different objectives even if we could both ride Milan-San Remo He's a great rider and knows how to race intelligently, so I'm happy he's joining Lampre-Merida," he said, perhaps hoping some of Costa's tactical finesse will rub off on his own pink and blue Lampre-Merida jersey.
"The more strong riders in the team, the better for everyone. Even for me…"