Mathieu van der Poel will look to emulate his grandfather Raymond Poulidor on Saturday by winning Milan-San Remo at his first attempt. The Dutchman lines up as one of the top contenders for this rescheduled edition of La Classicissima, though in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport, he suggested that Wout van Aert was the favourite to triumph on the Via Roma.
Poulidor won the 1961 Milan-San Remo after dropping his breakaway companions on the Poggio and then holding off a chasing group led by Rik Van Looy, the Emperor of Herentals. This weekend, Van der Poel is mindful of the threat posed by another Herentals native, his long-time cyclo-cross rival Van Aert.
“Wout van Aert is the first name that comes to mind because he showed his strength at Strade Bianche and Milano-Torino,” Van der Poel told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “I’d also pick out [Peter] Sagan and [Arnaud] Démare.”
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Van der Poel returned to competition last week at Strade Bianche, after his Alpecin-Fenix squad had opted out a planned participation in the Sibiu Tour in Romania. He had to settle for 15th in Siena, over 10 minutes down on Van Aert, after suffering an untimely puncture. The extreme heat was also a factor for many riders in Tuscany, though Van der Poel downplayed the idea that high temperatures would affect him at Milan-San Remo.
“I like warm weather,” Van der Poel. “Sure, at Strade Bianche the heat was maybe too much, but that’s better than it being too cold.”
Milan-San Remo’s sheer length sets it apart from all other one-day races, but Van der Poel believes his displays in long races elsewhere – notably the Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold Race last year – demonstrate his ability to go the distance.
“I’m ready to fight for victory even in a race of such length. I’ve done a lot of long races in Belgium and in Holland, and in the final, I was always good. The distance isn’t a problem.”
This year’s novel Milan-San Remo also sees a redesigned parcours, with the gruppo riding through the Langhe hills of Piedmont before reaching the Ligurian coast just ahead of the final two climbs of the Cipressa and the Poggio. Van der Poel does not believe the change to the parcours will alter the tenor of the race that is always finely balanced between attackers and sprinters.
“I’m convinced that we’ll have a hard race because all the attackers will do everything to try to drop the sprinters,” he said.
In his final warm-up for Milan-San Remo, Van der Poel raced to 13th in Milano-Torino on Wednesday. That same afternoon, his fellow countryman Fabio Jakobsen sustained severe injuries in a crash in the finishing straight on stage 1 of the Tour de Pologne. The CPA has called for a UCI investigation into the matter, expressing concern about the lay-out of the finish line and the lack of standardised barriers.
“I know Fabio personally, he’s a really great guy. The images were terrible,” Van der Poel said. “I have to say that there was also a safety problem at that finish line. The barriers shouldn’t have moved in that way.”
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