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All eyes on Slovakian cyclist Sagan at SanRemo

MILAN (AFP) –

Slovak cyclist Peter Sagan is shown on the Tour of Oman, February 12, 2013

Slovak cyclist Peter Sagan is shown on the Tour of Oman, February 12, 2013. Sagan will be among the big names to watch when Milan-SanRemo kicks off the season of major cycling classics this weekend.

Slovakian Peter Sagan will be among the big names to watch when Milan-SanRemo kicks off the season of major cycling classics this weekend.

Although only 23 years old, Sagan is already regarded as one of cycling’s next big stars and could take his stock further with a maiden, historic history in “La Primavera” on Sunday.

The Slovakian highlighted his form with two stage victories in the Tirreno-Adriatico race last week when his former Liquigas teammate Vincenzo Nibali, now at Astana, triumphed for the second year in succession.

After a fourth place finish last year, when Australian Simon Gerrans pipped Swiss star Fabian Cancellara at the line, Sagan went on to win three stages and the sprinters’ green jersey at the Tour de France.

Having beaten British sprint king Mark Cavendish in last week’s outing at Tirreno, Sagan is confident in his chances.

“I think the team will ride to support me in the race,” said Sagan.

In the event the race does not finish in a small group sprint, Cannondale have another option in Moreno Moser — the recent winner of the gruelling Strade Bianche one-day Italian race.

Moreno Moser of Italy takes a photo behind his head of a teammate on August 19, 2012 in Durango, Colorado

Moreno Moser of Italy takes a photo behind his head of a teammate on August 19, 2012 in Durango, Colorado. Moser, the recent winner of the gruelling Strade Bianche one-day Italian race, is another bright star for the Cannondale team alongside Peter Sagan.

Sagan added: “If it turns out a different race, Moreno gives us another guarantee and that means I could be even more comfortable, and confident”.

The first of the season’s five “monuments”, the race is a near 300 km slog which begins in Milan and heads south towards the coast where the first of eight climbs begin taking a steady toll on the peloton.

Usually it is on the Cipressa, the race’s penultimate climb, or the Poggio — whose summit is barely six kilometres from the finish — that decisive attacks and counter-attacks usually come and go as a dwindling bunch races towards the flat finish.

Although Sagan is riding strongly, the Slovakian will not be without adversaries.

Despite failing to win a stage in the past week, 2009 champion Cavendish remains a threat — if he can manage to stay near the front of the peloton when the going gets tough later on.

Cancellara won the race in 2008 and his runner-up place last year suggests the Swiss still has the legs to challenge for what would be his second win.

British cyclist Mark Cavendish is seen during the Tour of Qatar in Doha on February 6, 2013

British cyclist Mark Cavendish is seen during the Tour of Qatar in Doha on February 6, 2013. Despite failing to win a stage in the past week, 2009 champion Cavendish remains a threat to Peter Sagan — if he can manage to stay near the front of the peloton when the going gets tough in the Milan-SanRemo race.

Meanwhile, for the first time the race will welcome an African-registered team. While MTN-Qhubeka’s leader for the race is German sprinter Gerald Ciolek, all eyes are likely to be on Sozengo Jim.

“Songezo Jim will become the first black South African to participate in a World Tour race,” the team’s manager, Doug Ryder, said midweek. “Songezo and the other riders will be working in support of Ciolek.”

Team Sky’s hopes, meanwhile, will be shouldered by Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen — a strong all around rider who is well suited to the race’s climbs and has a fairly strong sprint finish.

Gerrans recently said he was not on the form of his life and that Orica-GreenEdge teammate Matt Goss, the winner of a stage at Tirreno and the 2011 champion, would be a better bet.

“With Gossy’s Tirreno win late last week, he’s shown that he’s in fantastic shape at the moment,” Gerrans told greenedgecycling.com.

“If the race comes down to a bunch sprint, which is the most likely scenario, he’ll be our man.

“The team will line up with the plan to support Gossy. I’ll have a bit of free rein in the final. That was our approach last year, too.”

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