Orica-GreenEdge has already proved it can win Milan-San Remo from a small group but sports director Matt White has predicted his team will have to fight it out in a bunch sprint to claim the Monument on Sunday.
Former champion and opportunist Simon Gerrans as well as burgeoning versatile sprinter Michael Matthews will lead the outfit at the 300km marathon that John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) are firming as popular favourites for.
White concedes Orica-GreenEdge has longer odds in the scenario he has suggested but is nonetheless confident the team’s leaders are capable of winning.
“A smaller group is better for us but at the end of the day we’re still going to have to beat the usual suspects,” White told Cycling Weekly today. “We’re not going to drop Sagan, we’re not going to drop Degenkolb.
“You see the same guys always there but now they just shuffle position. Fabian [Cancellara] has I don’t know how many times finished on the podium, or gone very close to winning. Last year was a big surprise with [Gerald] Ciolek but that was very, very special weather conditions.
“It’s pretty hard to see a surprise winner for Milan-San Remo.”
Le Manie was detoured in last year’s partly neutralised race where Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka) withstood freezing conditions to best Sagan in a seven-man sprint at the finish.
The climb will not feature in this year’s edition, which also doesn’t incorporate the proposed Pompeiana, making it more sprinter-friendly.
All-rounder Gerrans best Cancellara and Vincenzo Nibali in a three-up sprint to win the title in 2012. Sagan and Degenkolb sprinted for fourth place from the second group that came in two seconds adrift then, and have only improved since.
Gerrans won the Tour Down Under in January and was seventh at proceeding Herald Sun Tour. The 31-year-old suffered with allergies on return to Europe and was forced to withdraw from this month’s Paris-Nice but is in shape.
Matthews was able to pick the brain of three-time Milan-San Remo victor Oscar Freire during his two-year stint at Rabobank. The former under-23 road world champion is not a pure sprinter but reminded everyone of his pace with two stage wins on debut at the Vuelta a Espana last year. He was notably climbing well at Paris-Nice this month.
“We’ll be pretty attacking and we’ve got Simon there to cover stuff on the Poggio,” White said. “I think the Cipressa is too far out. The thing is if it’s wet, the descents of the Cipressa and the Poggio are going to be incredibly important.”
Weather conditions this weekend should not be as cruel as 2013 but rain is forecast and could impact on the “complexity” of the race.
“There is going to be wet roads – where and how much of that will be the big factor,” he said. “It’s probably going to be raining at the start, which is not that big of an issue until you get down to the coast. If it’s wet roads on the coast that changes a lot as it really slows the race down.
“If it’s wet roads at the start and dry at the finish then it will be normal. I would expect a pretty big bunch sprint.”
German Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) has celebrated six victories on varying terrain so far this year and will have a protected role at the race, especially if he is in the front group on the Poggio. The five-time Tour de France stage winner is yet to add a classic to his palmares but is amongst some 10 riders White has considered.
“[Andre] Greipel is yet to prove that he’s got what it takes over 300km. Without Le Manie it certainly helps him,” he said. “He’s such a big unit to get around 300km. If the race were 250km, Andre probably would have won it five times already.”
Variables and uncertainties aside, White is sticking to a tested and true formula.
“It’s one of those races where it’s really all about conservation of energy for the individual and also as a team,” he said.
“You’ve got to be very clear with what the plan is for the individual and the team and then stick to it. No matter how you’re feeling, or what happens, you stick to that plan. It’s such a long, long day if you make too many efforts you’re just going to pay for them when crunch time comes.”