Matthew Goss building toward Milan-San Remo assault
Matthew Goss is amongst a handful of riders to have won Milan-San Remo on the back of Paris-Nice but the Australian has again opted to compete at Tirreno-Adriatico ahead of the first monument of the season.
The seven-stage race begins tomorrow with a 16.9km team time trial that Goss's Orica-GreenEdge outfit claimed last year to place him in the leader's jersey for a stint.
The 26 year old is free from the injury complaints that significantly disrupted his 2011-2012 pre-season and has been in Italy since Saturday training with teammates before the race he predicts Milan-San Remo hopefuls will begin to show.
"I think we're going to really see who the big contenders are over the next week," Goss told Cycling Weekly. "Until now everyone has done very different programmes, in every corner of the world, so this next week is going to be a real indication."
Team Sky will be an exception to the rule with its Classics squad swapping racing for a Tenerife training camp, which is part of an untested strategy designed to win a prestigious one-day race within the next few years.
The last two Milan-San Remo champions, in Goss  and teammate Simon Gerrans , have come from the Race to the Sun but Tirreno has the better track record.
"I did Tirreno last year and Paris-Nice the two years before that," Goss said. "I've always liked Tirreno but when I was with HTC I did Paris-Nice a lot of the time because me and Cav [Mark Cavendish] would race different programmes, so I had more opportunity.
"This year Tirreno has got a couple of really long stages, which is always good before San Remo, and the style of racing is I think better preparation before March and April. The racing in Tirreno I find is a little bit more like Classics racing - it's left, right, up, down and little hills all day. At Paris-Nice you still have the long stages but it's a lot more uneventful, it's kind of always decided on the hills or the final climbs."
Goss's sentiments echo that of 2009 Milan-San Remo winner Cavendish who - although stating he does not want a team built around him this season - chose to race Tirreno-Adriatico only after he saw the course offered more of a "workout" in what has been his most successful pro season start.
"It's probably a bit more intensity, yeah, but even a few years ago a lot more GC guys went to Paris-Nice and a lot more of the Classics guys came here," Goss continued. "That seems to have changed a little bit this year so it will be interesting to see how the racing goes."
Goss has felt the negative effects of long-haul travel and climate changes between his Monaco base, native Australia and then the February Tour of Oman but has settled into more of a rhythm as the Classics season fast approaches. He will be targeting team time trial success and stage wins at Tirreno with Daryl Impey and Brett Lancaster part of a strong lead-out.
Goss entered Milan-San Remo as defending champion last year finishing 15th and 20 seconds down on Gerrans, who is currently racing at Paris-Nice. The 2011 world champion silver medalist in a way could take confidence from the performance, which doubled as his third race start, given health problems in the lead-up.
"Last year wasn't ideal," Goss said. "At the same time I still went over the Poggio with pretty much the front group - there was three or four guys away - finished 15th and I'd done two courses of antibiotics the week leading into it.
"I know that if everything goes well, if I don't get sick, then there's a really good chance I'm going to be at the front, and if I am at the front the finish is perfect for me. It's going to be a small group and it's going to be a sprint so it's a race that I really target every year."
Cavendish has downplayed his ambitions - a strategy that worked in 2009 and has moved some to suggest he is again bluffing - but sports director Brian Holm has since indicated Omega Pharma-Quick Step may put its resources, albeit not exclusively, behind Tom Boonen. Boonen was second to Oscar Freire in 2010 and San Remo is about the only Classic the Belgian has not won.
Reigning Tour de France green jersey champion Peter Sagan [Cannondale] claimed the bunch sprint for fourth last year and the Slovak is set to again be amongst the top contenders. The 23 year old also had the support of a strong team that accelerated on the Le Manie in a race defining move which split the peloton and saw Cavendish dropped. However, the outfit may not get the same level of cooperation from other teams this season.
"It's quite a strange thing because there's not many races that we do where the peloton can split with 100km to go and not come back, so there's a lot of cooperation from different teams, and people really put the pressure on," Goss said of the Le Manie.
"It depends on the weather. If it's a fine day the bunch that comes down is probably going to be a little bit bigger but if it's a wet day it's almost guaranteed to split.
"One of the most important parts of that race is the descent on the Poggio. Last year there was a group and a crash on the descent split it in two pretty much. That was the difference from the year before - I was at the very front of the group and the crash happened behind."
Goss, like most sprinters, will target Ghent-Wevelgem after Milan-San Remo. Mario Cipollini was the last rider to win both back-to-back in 2002. The Tasmanian has not ruled out a start at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
German fast-man Andre Greipel [Lotto-Belisol] has also named Milan-San Remo as an objective
and will face Goss, Sagan and Cavendish plus Fabian Cancellara
[RadioShack Leopard Trek] and John Degenkolb [Argos-Shimano] at Tirreno