Tadej Pogačar understandably heads into the 133th edition of Milan-San Remo as one of the pre-race favourites.
His imperious 2022 form has seen him win the GC at both the UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico as well as bagging his first Strade Bianche, thanks to a solo breakaway 50kms from the finish.
He’ll seek to make it four wins from four at the year’s first Monument on Saturday and will do so backed by a strong UAE Team Emirates line-up.
The 23-year-old phenomenon is supported by Alessandro Covi, Davide Formolo, Ryan Gibbons, Jan Polanc, Oliviero Troia and Diego Ulssi. It's a team that looks well-suited to laying the foundations for Pogačar, with both Matteo Trentin and Fernando Gaviria missing, riders who could well have had an eye on victory themselves.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the year,” Pogačar says. “The whole team has pulled together and worked really hard so I think it is showing in our results as a group.”
Pogačar’s scorching start is proving to be infectious. The team has already notched 18 wins in 2022, with both Covi and Polanc featuring on early podiums. Covi particularly has looked in stellar form, with his win on stage two of the Ruta del Sol demonstrating his ability over short climbs not unlike the Poggio and the Cipressa, which could be decisive on Saturday.
For Pogačar to win his third Monument it seems as though he’ll likely need to make a move on one of these legendary climbs. The man himself hinted at such an attack after his win at Tirreno-Adriatico when asked about his thoughts on how to win La Primavera.
“I think it’s difficult unless you cut it on the bottom then you can make Cipressa or Poggio,” Pogačar said. “I think a long attack at Milan-San Remo, that would be something.”
Certainly many of his rivals are expecting as much.
“In Tirreno-Adriatico he could pull away from the rest on any molehill,” observed Wout van Aert who was competing in Paris Nice and is seen as the man most likely to thwart Pogačar on the Via Roma come Saturday. “ He is definitely someone who will be difficult to follow on the Poggio.”
The ability to simply ride away from his challengers, as Pogačar demonstrated on both stage six at Tirreno-Adriatico and on the sterrato at Strade Bianche, has only added to his growing aura of invincibility.
“The way Pogačar is riding, we’re racing for second place,” Damiano Caruso told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “For San Remo, not only do I think he can be a factor, but I think he can win. He’s so strong at the end of a race it’s difficult to think about beating him.”
However, the 293 kilometre race, the longest of the five Monuments, is known as the easiest to finish but the hardest to win. Something that’s not lost on Pogačar.
“As we’ve seen before, this race is one of the most difficult to win and can end in many outcomes,” he said. “At UAE we have a team prepared for all the different options so we’re ready for what is sure to be a great race.”
While the reigning Tour de France champion is obviously the team’s designated leader UAE’s chosen line-up does give them some options. All-rounder Ulissi will hope to be at the sharp end of the race come the Poggio leaving him with a chance to improve on his best finish of 40th. Covi made his debut in the race in 2021 and finished a respectable 39th. The team’s sprinter Gibbons is making his first appearance, as is Jan Polanc.
But ultimately UAE’s success in the race is likely to fall at the feet of Pogačar. He sounds more than ready.
“I’m excited for Milan-San Remo. The finish is not too far from where I live in Monaco so I know the last part of the race and the final climbs a bit.”
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Luke Friend has worked as a writer, editor and copywriter for over twenty years. Across books, magazines and websites, he's covered a broad range of topics for a range of clients including Major League Baseball, the National Trust and the NHS. He has an MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University and is a qualified bicycle mechanic. He fell in love with cycling at an early age, partly due to watching the Tour de France on TV. He's a passionate follower of bike racing to this day as well an avid road and gravel rider.
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