Sagan ready for San Remo challenge

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Recent stage success at Tirreno-Adriatico has highlighted Cannondale rider Peter Sagan as a favourite to claim the Milan-San Remo title when the Italian race kicks off the season of major cycling classics this weekend.

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

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.

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

The first of the season's five "monuments", the race is a near 300km 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.

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 WorldTour race," the team's manager, Doug Ryder, said mid-week. "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 team-mate Matt Goss, the winner of a stage at Tirreno and the 2011 champion, would be a better bet.

Milan San-Remo will be broadcast live on SBS ONE and streaming online, Monday 18 March, from 12.35am AEDT.

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