We’re less than a week away from the first Monument on the cycling calendar. Milan – San Remo, nicknamed La Primavera, La Classicissima or simply The Big Long Sprinters Classic, packages a whopping 290km of Italian road into a race which dates back to 1907. This year’s event takes place on Saturday 18th March and will see riders arrive at the famous Via Roma around seven hours after leaving Milan.
The Route & The Weather
Although organizers are leaving the release of an official profile a little late, we can fully expect a final 30km that visits the climbs of the Cipressa and Poggio and culminates on Via Roma. As the longest one-day race on the calendar, Milan – San Remo challenges riders to get to a springtime peak. Large parts of the race are flat and fast, but the slopes of the Cipressa will feel brutal with 250km of racing already in the legs. The Cipressa may be the hardest climb on offer but it’s the Poggio which has seen the most famous San Remo attacks. It’s a launch pad for aggressive riders and – though they often get caught – guarantees the closing moments of the race are spun into frenzy.
Northern Italy is capable of producing just about any weather conditions at this time of year but an early forecast suggests the sun will be out on Saturday and that rain jackets can be left in the team hotel… unlike in 2013, where the route was shortened due to snow.
Will we get a sprint?
Recent history suggests we’ll get something which loosely resembles a bunch sprint. We’ve heard the likes of Vincenzo Nibali and Fabian Cancellara call the modern route ‘too easy’, with a reduction in climbing tipping a beautifully balanced race heavily in favour of the fastmen. San Remo attracts a high class field and there are always some riders pursuing solo success. Nevertheless, the strong sprinters ought to survive and they’ll have the final say.
Who’s going to win?
Predictably, the startlist is stacked. The sprinters have been dotted all over the world in the first few months of the season. They’ve crossed paths in Dubai, Oman, Portugal and France but all roads lead to Milan and we can expect a showdown of the highest quality.
In terms of pure sprinters, 2009 winner Mark Cavendish returns and is to be taken seriously. Formerly, whether or not Cavendish would survive the Poggio was his sole barrier to victory but these days the Brit isn’t quite so all-conquering.
Certain to be involved are the decorated trio of Peter Sagan, John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff. They all enjoy racing the classics and won’t be afraid of the mammoth race distance.
Kristoff won here in 2014 before following up with a podium the year later. By these high standards he was disappointing last time out and could only manage sixth in the final sprint. I expect him to make the top ten but I’d be surprised if he won.
Sagan has ironed out the very few creases in his wonderful style and will return to San Remo with a score to settle. Last year he was nearly brought down in a crash close to the end; he avoided going down but his chances had gone.
What a comeback from his 2016 injury Degenkolb has made. For some reason I doubted he would ever be the same beast following his terrible training camp crash at the start of last season. After winning two Monuments in 2015 he was sidelined at a frustrating stage of his career. A victory in Dubai and two podiums in Paris-Nice show the German has come storming back to his best.
Current champion Arnaud Demare celebrated under a cloud last year; unproven rumours surfaced that he had towed his way back to the pack following a crash. In the last 12 months he has done his best to show his Monument-winning ability is real and has rounded into form nicely over the last few weeks. Compatriot and rival Nacer Bouhanni has seen his form go the other way. I think the Cofidis man would have won last year if not for a mechanical but his form since has been lukewarm.
Alessandro Petacchi recently called the Fernando Gaviria the ‘new Sagan’. The Colombian certainly possesses similar talents, twinning real speed with toughness and a winning instinct. He emerged as favourite in last year’s race before inexplicably taking a tumble in the final kilometres. He’ll be hoping to reverse his luck on Saturday.
I have to mention Michael Matthews – another rider who saw his hopes hit the deck in 2016. He was left gutted when crashing on the approach to the Cipressa. San Remo appears to be a real target for him and I think he’ll go well this year.
A hard San Remo could leave many sprinters flailing off the back. In the event of split, riders such as Greg Van Avermaet, Michael Kwiatkowski and Sonny Colbrelli come into play. There’s plenty more I could mention as outsiders; Tim Wellens, Giovanni Visconti , Diego Ulissi, Oscar Gatto…. What about San Remo specialist Ben Swift?!
Peter Sagan’s just a bit too good. I’m struggling to think of who’ll get the better of him on the roads of Via Roma. The other likely protagonists just won’t be able to match his final speed. Degenkolb and Matthews will get close.
- Peter Sagan.
- John Degenkolb
- Michael Matthews
Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below!
About the Author: Mike Franchetti owns the site www.justprocycling.com, producing race previews, top five lists and rider profiles, as well as tweeting predictions and other nonsense off @justprocycling.