BOLOGNA, Italy (VN) — The list of favorites for Sunday’s Milano-Sanremo is top-heavy, but there are even more outsiders that could win, should things go their way.
Top among the list are John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) and André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), two Germans who can go fast on the flats, but struggle over the climbs.
Sunday’s race will see the “sprinter’s course” back in play, without either La Maniè or Pompeiana to slow them down, but even Greipel admits it will not be easy.
“I’ve never been there for the finale after the Poggio in three tries,” Greipel told journalists during Tirreno-Adriatico. “The condition is there, but you have to be good in the climb.”
Greipel, however, is climbing better than ever, something he says he’s focused on to survive the long climbs of the Tour de France. Like many sprinters, Sanremo wasn’t even on his calendar until organizers removed the controversial Pompeiana climb due to mudslides. That threw a wrench into Greipel’s plans, but he tried to adjust.
“For the head, it was pretty hard because I had a race program without Sanremo,” he said. “I would have done some different training if Sanremo had been a clear objective. I’ve been racing a lot, and after Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, I changed my training a bit to get ready.”
Greipel, 31, always enters the classics season with a bit of trepidation. He’s in his comfort zone going 65kph some 150 meters from the finish line when he has the entire team working for him in the bunch sprints. Since his move to the Belgian outfit in 2011, the Lotto train has developed into one of the most effective in the pack.
Yet in the anything-goes classics, Greipel admits he’s out of his element. Even though he’s strong as an ox — or perhaps a gorilla, as his nickname indicates — Greipel seems as though he would rather be sprinting for wins in a stage race.
“All wins are thanks to the team. I finish it off, but it’s a team effort,” Greipel said. “I won’t do Scheldeprijs; Gent-Wevelgem is an objective. I will support Jürgen [Roelandts] in [Tour of] Flanders and Roubaix.”
Degenkolb and Greipel could continue the German tradition at Sanremo, where compatriot Erik Zabel won four times. Zabel, in fact, gave points to both Greipel and Degenkolb on how to win Sanremo when he worked at High Road, where the two Germans were teammates. Neither, however, say they’ve had any contact with Zabel since then.
In sharp contrast to Greipel is Degenkolb, who thrives in the classics. In fact, he doesn’t even consider himself a pure sprinter, but rather a rider who can climb and attack, and packs a mean finishing sprint.
Whereas Greipel is the center of the team focus in sprints at Lotto, Marcel Kittel assumes that role at Giant-Shimano, with Degenkolb gladly slipping into a helper’s role for the mass gallops.
Classics season is Degenkolb’s moment to shine, so much so that Kittel, who confirmed he will be starting the Giro d’Italia, won’t be racing in Belgium at all this year, instead focusing on stage races.
“It all kicks off at Sanremo. It’s an important period for three weeks and I want to do well,” Degenkolb told VeloNews. “I am so excited about the classics this year.”
Greipel raced at Tirreno-Adriatico, while Degenkolb chose Paris-Nice, where he won a stage and then made it through a climb-heavy final weekend to claim the points jersey.
“Paris-Nice is ideal preparation for Sanremo, I am leaving the race very strong,” he said. “There is plenty of time for recovery, and this gives you the last punch. We will ride the [Sanremo] course Thursday or Friday for one last look.”
Like many, Degenkolb senses that this year’s Sanremo could be a last chance if the Pompeiana is indeed introduced for 2015, and he wants to maximize his options.
“The parcours is like in the good old days. There could be a sprint of 20, 30, 40 riders, and that could be an advantage for me,” he said. “My shape is good, I am looking forward to Sunday.”
The 25-year-old has already won an impressive collection of one-day races, including the Vattenfall Cyclassics and Paris-Tours last year. He was fifth in the 2012 Sanremo, so if there’s a bunch sprint, he wants to be there.
And while he’s not overlooking Sanremo, the races that get Degenkolb most excited are the northern classics.
“I’d love to win a monument some day,” he said in an earlier interview. “I can combine sprinting and the classics right now, and gain more experience in races like Flanders and Roubaix. Those are the races that motivate me.”
The road to Roubaix goes through the Italian Riviera on Sunday. Degenkolb and Greipel hope to be there with a shot at delivering Germany a victory in “La Classicissima.”