Sam Bennett says he will be praying for a headwind and trying to hang on when Milan-San Remo hits the Poggio this weekend.
Deceuninck – Quick-Step sprinter Bennett dreams of adding a Classics victory to his already illustrious palmarès, but he will need luck on his side for ‘La Primavera’ to end in a bunch finish on Saturday (March 20).
Bennett is likely to be the back-up option for Deceuninck – Quick-Step in San Remo, as world champion Julian Alaphilippe will hope to chase a second victory when the race explodes on the final climb.
The Italian Monument hasn’t finished in a bunch sprint since 2016, as the climbers and punchers have dominated the podium in recent years.
Bennett said: “I just try to treat it like every other race so that I don’t build up too much pressure.
“I think we have many cards to play here with Julian, myself, and [Davide] Ballerini. I think we just have to use those cards to the best of our advantage.
“Julian’s going to be extremely strong in the final, especially on the Poggio. He can always say to the guys he has Sam Bennett behind so he can play that card as well.
“It’s just going to work to our advantage having this strong team here and hopefully we get the result we want this weekend.”
The first Monument of the 2021 season features a stacked start list, with Alaphilippe, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) topping the list of favourites.
But Belgian WorldTour squad Deceuninck has arguably the best back-up options for the race, in Bennett and Ballerini, who have both impressed in sprints in the early season.
Bennet said: “I think they still consider [San Remo] to be the sprinters Monument, but I can’t see it. Each time I see it the group has gone up the road.
“Every year the standard is getting so high and guys are going up the Poggio so quick. We’re going up the Poggio at the same speed as the flat.
“I was just driving that direction today and it looked like a tailwind in that direction so it doesn’t really look that great for myself, but all I can do is pray for a bit of headwind and try to hang on.”
The last pure sprinter to win on the famous Via Roma was Groupama-FDJ’s Arnaud Démare in 2016, but since then every edition has been won through attacks on the final climb, the Poggio, from Vincenzo Nibali’s solo escape in 2018 to the two-rider dual between Alaphilippe and eventual victor Van Aert last season.
On his dream of winning a Classic, Bennett said: “I still have dreams of going back to the Tour and winning stages there but something that is missing is to win a Classic, or at least a one day WorldTour – it’s something I’ve never done.
“It’s something that I really want, something I’m fighting for, but so is everyone else. I just have to keep fighting and hopefully someday it’ll happen.