Pozzato says Boonen isn't unbeatable in Roubaix
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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pozzato says Boonen isn't unbeatable in Roubaix

by Steve Jones at 12:37 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders

With the Belgian racing calendar's opening weekend fast approaching, the riders targeting the Spring Classics have already been hard at work building up their form. For the past two years the Belgians have dominated the Cobbled Classics winning both Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. This year Italian Filippo Pozzato will be looking to disrupt that streak after finishing fifth and second in Flanders and Roubaix respectively last season.

Pozzato has slowly gravitated towards the cobblestones since his surprise victory in Italy's biggest classic, Milan-Sanremo. On that day in 2006, the Italian took the opportunity step out of then teammate Tom Boonen's (Quick Step) shadow, and took a leadership role on the Liquigas team the following year. Two years later he finished as runner-up in La Primavera, but it was his sixth place in the Tour of Flanders a month later and his eventual move to the Russian Katusha team the following year that saw a change in focus.

Katusha was born out of the Tinkoff Credit Systems team started by Russian entrepreneur Oleg Tinkov. The Russian Global Cycling Project took over the already successful team in an effort to help grow the sport in their country. Katusha is funded by large Russian businesses including Gazprom, Itera and Rostechnologii. The team is managed by former Classics hardman Andrei Tchmil, who won Paris-Roubaix (1994), Milan-Sanremo (1999) and the Tour of Flanders (2000), with Quick Step's rival Belgian team Lotto.

Tchmil's influence on Pozzato saw the Italian riding for the win in both races last year, and has given the rider a new found confidence for his campaign this coming April.

"Tom will always be a main opponent, because he is currently the biggest specialist in that kind of race. Last year [in Paris-Roubaix] he was stronger than me," admitted Pozzato to La Dernière Heure last week. He knows that despite Boonen having the perfect build for riding the cobbles, there are many factors to winning in the Spring. "But we must not forget that not even he is unbeatable," he added.

The weather during the Spring in Beglium is often times wet, conditions which increase the role luck plays in the outcome of Roubaix, earning it the title "Queen of the Classics". When mud mixes into the sectors of pavé, experience in choosing the proper equipment and setting it up properly become a vital part of the race's preparation. It's those external variables that give a rider like Pozzato the chance for victory against his former Quick Step team.

"If I could choose, I'd rather win Flanders since the race comes first, and a victory would give me more confidence for the 'Hell of the North'," he explained, using Roubaix's other, more infamous, nickname.

Last year in the Tour of Flanders both Pozzato and Boonen started the race as favorites, along with the Begian's teammate and defending champion Stijn Devolder. Devolder successfully defended his title while an angry Boonen lashed out at the Italian for "shadowing" him in the race. The tactic had the affect of neutralizing both riders, allowing Devolder the freedom to ride away from the pair. He isn't worried about Boonen's criticism commenting, "I know what he said then, but I also know that he said it shortly after the race when he was still tense and disappointed. I have very good communication with him. We respect each other."

He also didn't rule out using the same tactic again. "Everything will be decided during the race, but if Tom has a good day, then I might follow him again on the cobbles of Flanders."

Last year the Italian rode the race primarily on his own. This time around he'll be mentoring new Katusha recruit Alexandre Pliuschin. The 23-year-old won the U23 edition of the Tour of Flanders in 2007 and, in time, could prove to be a valuable asset for their Classics campaign.


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