By Gregor Brown
André Greipel is on track to win Milan-San Remo this spring, according to his Lotto-Belisol team sports director. The German won three stages at the Tour Down Under, has better team support than previous seasons and another year of experience. Lotto-Belisol will race the Italian classic with one goal: to win with Greipel.
Sports director, Herman Frison told Cycling Weekly, "I am sure, and so are the other sports directors, that he can win Milan-San Remo."
Greipel worked for team-mate Philippe Gilbert after the two made part of the key escape. He survived until the final climb, the Poggio, where slipped away from the leaders. Gilbert finished third behind winner Matt Goss and at the end of the season, left for team BMC Racing.
Greipel told Cycling Weekly that he is still the same weight as always, 82kg, but he appears fitter and leaner than before this season.
"My fat per cent is pretty low," Greipel said, "and I can't lose muscle [mass] because then I won't be fast enough!"
Milan-San Remo, taking place on March 17, is the longest of the classics at nearly 300 kilometres. Besides the distance, the cyclists have to cover the many coastal climbs heading westwards towards the finish in San Remo: the three "capi" climbs, the Cipressa and the Poggio. The final two are the most crucial as the Poggio is only 6.2 kilometres from the finish.
Goss made the escape last year while his HTC team-mate and former winner, Mark Cavendish was in the group behind. He had the winning combination thanks to his ability to survive the climbs, but still have enough kick to sprint ahead of Fabian Cancellara and Gilbert. The Australian believes that Greipel also has the ability to survive and win this year.
"I think he does," Goss told Cycling Weekly. "He's strong enough and he can get over those climbs on a good day. If Cav can get over those climbs, Greipel can as well."
Cavendish had George Hincapie to lead him to the win in 2009. Lotto signed several riders to support Greipel this year, including Greg Henderson from team Sky.
"I hope he has at least one team-mate with him, I hope it's Henderson," Frison explained. "He can take him to the last 200 or 300 metres."
Henderson helped Greipel when the two raced with T-Mobile/Columbia-HTC and was asked to do so again in Lotto. He said that he is "back riding with mates again" and that he has faith in his leader.
"He's super quick and strong on the climbs," Henderson said. "He's mentally very strong, at the end of six or seven hours, that's what makes the difference."
Greipel will fine tune his preparations for Milan-San Remo in the coming months. He races the Qatar and Oman stage races next month, and Tirreno-Adriatico in March, only four days before the finish in San Remo.
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