Tadej Pogačar might be many people's pick for Milan-San Remo this weekend, but 10 years on from his win, Simon Gerrans has warned that "anything can happen" and that "everything still has to go right" for the Slovenian to win the first Monument of the year.
Speaking to Cycling Weekly on Thursday, ahead of the race on Saturday, Gerrans repeated the line that Milan-San Remo is "the easiest race to finish and the hardest one to win".
The Australian said: "Because it's such a long day and so much can go wrong or right in 300kms of racing. To win that race everything has to go just right for you in the final few kilometres of the race. So you could be the strongest man in the peloton, significantly, for Milan-San Remo, and it doesn't guarantee you a win."
Gerrans won the race in 2012, beating Fabian Cancellara and Vincenzo Nibali in a sprint on the Via Roma after attacking on the Poggio, which in fact ended up being his only top-30 finish at the race.
"It's not like you're racing up to the top of Alpe d'Huez, where the best climber's gonna likely win that stage. Milan-San Remo is very different," he explained. "It's a race that can go, you know, either a little break, a select group, or a significant size bunch on the finish line. It's a race where it really, really anything can happen, any scenario can unfold.
"I think obviously Pogačar is in extremely hot form, and if you like look at his track record over the past couple of years, you'd say on paper he's the man to beat. But yeah, I think racing one day racing, Milan-San Remo, is a whole different beast."
The Slovenian has already won seven times in 2022, including a stunning solo breakaway win at Strade Bianche a fortnight ago, meaning he is the one to watch going into San Remo. However, Gerrans does not think it's that simple over the almost-seven hours of racing
"Talking about someone finishing in Tirreno or any stage race on the calendar," he said, "you would say yeah, something has to go wrong for Tadej Pogačar not to win with his recent track record and his current form.
"But one day racing is totally different. I think everything still has to go right for Pogačar to win a one day race."
The proof of this might be in that some of the best riders of the last decade have found Milan-San Remo the hardest to win. Peter Sagan, three-time world champion, has raced it 11 times, finishing in the top-four seven times, including second once, but has still failed to achieve victory.
Likewise, Philippe Gilbert, a man who has won the other four Monuments, has ridden it 17 times, and come in the top-ten on five occasions, but has not cracked it.
Other favourites for this year's race include Wout van Aert, who won in 2020, and Caleb Ewan, who finished second at last year's edition.
"Caleb has finished second place twice," Gerrans said. "He hasn't been beaten in that sprint finish in a little while. So I think he just needs some team-mates around him. Or some other guys that are going to ride it back for a sprint and Caleb's a big favourite to win the race.
"I'd love to see Caleb win it, but again, you could be the fastest guy there but it has to go his way to a certain extent. It hasn't in the past couple of years, someone has slipped away."
"If the weather is coming from the east it's going to be a headwind," he continued. "So it's ideal conditions for Caleb. A headwind along the coast is going to take the speed out of the peloton. Take the speed out of the climbs just a little bit. Give him an opportunity to sit on the wheels. Not only would I love to see Caleb win, I think he's probably a big favourite."
The past few editions have been won after attacks either on the ascent or descent of the final climb, the Poggio, including when Jasper Stuyven won last year, which is different to when Gerrans rode it.
"It is a race that can suit a number of styles," he said. "I remember analysing the finish in the years leading up to it when I was racing Milan-San Remo. I think up until the one I won, only one in 10 would actually be won in a breakaway. Ninety per cent were won in a kind of reduced bunch sprint.
"So I knew that my chances were fairly limited of winning that race, but since then, I think since I want it, there's been a large number of little breaks and, and sort of solo winners win the race so it has really opened up."
This might mean it is more difficult for Ewan to win the race, especially if he is isolated on the final climbs.
"I think there's not too many teams that go to Milan-San Remo, that are riding for a sprint these days," Gerrans explained. "Whereas maybe a few years ago, there was. Where there's a lot of teams with leaders that are puncheurs like you mentioned and motivated to make the race really hard, and motivated to keep it really fast. So it puts the sprinters in difficulty and eliminates their teammates."
This year marks 10 years since the Australian won the race with his attack on the Poggio, he says he was fortunate to end up in a combination that could stay away to the finish.
"The way I won the races wasn't so much following attacks, I was actually positioning myself to attack," Gerrans said. "Literally as I was stepping on the pedals, Vincenzo Nibali went at the same time, so all of a sudden, we're both attacking both at precisely the same moment, and jumped away. We didn't hesitate. We really drove it, as quick as we could, like, as hard as we could.
"In no time whatsoever, [Fabian] Cancellara joined us. Then we had, at the time, the strongest guy in the peloton, really motivated to make this break work. So we had a combination that could go all the way to the finish line. So for me, it wasn't a matter of I'm gonna follow this attack in this place, on this point, it was like I think this is a place to attack. So this is where I was going. I was lucky that Nibali had the same idea."
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