Milan-San Remo: Ones to watch
This weekend, the cycling world looks forward to the first of its five ‘monument’ races: the 108th Milan-San Remo.
Although the race is commonly known as the sprinters’ classic, its gruelling length (295km) and a succession of ‘bumps’ late on mean that it's far from certain to culminate in a bunch sprint.
One of these 'bumps' is the Poggio di San Remo. With a length of four kilometres and an average gradient of just 3.6%, the Poggio does not seem like an especially ferocious climb.
However, it comes with less than 10km of the race left and, having already covered 285km, the riders are exhausted at this point.
The Poggio is very effective in eliminating the vast majority of pure sprinters such as Mark Cavendish and is the perfect place to attack.
The race, then, suits the punchier riders who have the ability to cope with climbs while still having a fast finish. Below are Sports Gazette’s ones to watch.
Peter Sagan is the current World Champion and is an almost unique rider.
He has enjoyed an imperious start to his season, winning the early season classic Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne as well as two stages in last week’s Tirreno-Adriatico.
The 27 year-old Slovakian will been keen to add Milan-San Remo to his expansive list of palmarès - the closest he’s come to winning the race was in 2013 when he was pipped on the line by the German Gerald Ciolek.
Sagan’s ability to climb with the best while routinely out-sprinting the sport’s out-and-out-fast men certainly makes Sagan the favourite for this race and it would take a brave man to bet against him.
Milan-San Remo is one of Alexander Kristoff’s favourite races. A previous winner in 2014, the Norwegian rider has placed in the top 10 in each of the last four editions.
Similarly to Sagan, the 29 year-old has had an impressive start to the season, winning three stages of the Tour of Oman as well as taking the overall points jersey.
The Poggio should be no problem for Kirstoff and his fast finish should give him every chance of being in the mix for the victory.
Kristoff will feel though that his season starts now, with the spring classics season bursting into full flow.
John Degenkolb wrote his name into the pantheon of cycling greats in 2015 by winning Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix (the infamous ‘Hell of the North’) in the same year.
The 28 year-old’s 2016 season, though, was marred by a bad injury he sustained when was hit by a car while out training.
In the accident, the German nearly severed his left index finger and he has since had to learn to brake using only four fingers.
However, Degenkolb is now fully recovered and will hope that a switch of teams from Team Giant–Alpecin to Trek–Segafredo will prove to be the catalyst in regaining his form of 2015.
Greg Van Avermaet
Despite turning 31 last May, Greg Van Avermaet enjoyed the best season of his career in 2016.
In addition to becoming the Olympic Road Race Champion in Rio, Van Avermaet won a stage in the Tour de France as well as the Belgian cobbled classic, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
The Belgian has the climbing credentials to attack Sagan on the Poggio and if he gets clear of the field, he certainly has the power to leave the peloton in his wake.
Van Avermaet will have big plans for this season’s spring classics and Milan-San Remo gives him his first chance of the season to stamp his authority on one day racing.
Fernando Gaviria started out as a track cyclist and is a two-time omnium World Champion - making him a formidable force to reckon with in a sprint finish.
The 22 year-old has taken several notable scalps since his breakthrough season in 2015, including that of Mark Cavendish in the Tour de San Luis.
In the Tirreno-Adriatico, the young Colombian beat Sagan in a straight-sprint in the penultimate stage and, if the race does go to a sprint finish, it’s likely that he has the best chance to beat the Slovakian to the line.
Gaviria also has the advantage of a fantastic team in Quick-Step Floors working for him throughout the race and the experience of Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert will ensure that Gaviria’s tactics are spot on for the race.