The first monument of the year and the longest race in the calendar returns this weekend; Milan -> Sanremo!

Like most MSR’s, last year’s edition built slowly to a climax, with the closing kilometre being exceptionally exciting.

We had Gaviria crashing, almost taking out Sagan and Cancellara if it was not for some incredible bike handling, but what else would you expect from that pair! That left the door open for some other riders and Roelandts opened up the sprint early which caught everyone off guard. Swift followed (finishing 2nd in the end), Bouhanni looked strong but had a mechanical and came home 4th. Instead, it was a rather dubious win for Arnaud Démare in the end after there were accusations he got a tow from the team car back to the peloton after a crash. Nonetheless, it was an impressive sprint from the Frenchman and with the way he is riding this season so far, he could well make it back to back wins!

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Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A carbon copy of what we’ve had the past few years pretty much.

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A real race of attrition, the peloton doesn’t get close to this distance in any other race. The extra 50km compared to some other monuments and almost 100km on normal stage-race stages really adds another element. The climbs of the Cipressa and the Poggio if taken alone aren’t difficult at all.

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Yet, with them being the only place for the climbers and puncheurs to make a move they are always attacked at a ferocious pace. Plus, with 260km already in the legs, riders will be nervous as to how their body reacts.

We might see some long-range attacks on the Cipressa before the puncheurs try to break the hearts of the sprinters on the Poggio. It’s often a battle between attacking classics riders and the sprinter’s team-mates for control of the race. Once over the crest of the Poggio, it’s time for a daredevil descent into Sanremo itself.

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Once off the descent we have roughly 2km of flat to the finish. There will no doubt be more attacks here as the riders regroup. Will the sprinters have enough team-mates left to chase and control the race? Or will we even see non-sprinters chase down other non-sprinters? Inadvertently helping the sprinters who are with them!

The famous finish along the via Roma awaits.

How will the race pan out?

Going off of recent trends, the race certainly seems to live up to its nickname of “The Sprinter’s Monument”.

In the last 5 years, the number of riders in the leading group at the finish has swelled; 2012 (3); 2013 (7); 2014 (25); 2015 (26); 2016 (31). Why is that?

Well, the removal of the “Le Manie” climb in 2014 swung the race back towards bunch gallops. Although it came around 100km from the finish, it sapped away at the sprinters legs a lot earlier and ensured that they tackled the climbs at the end of the race with a bit more fatigue. You could also argue that sprinters in general seem to have got better at climbing over the past few years, but I’m not sure the likes of Kittel will agree!

Oddly enough though, I do still think we’ll see one of the more attacking MSRs for a while. I’m not saying it won’t come down to a sprint in the end, but with so many puncheurs in great form coming into the race, I’m sure they won’t want to wait until the sprint to end up 6th-10th place. There will be a slight headwind when the riders turn onto the Poggio, but the majority of the climb will be a tailwind. Will this inspire the attackers?

If a select group can make it over the top of the Poggio and work well together then they can make it to the finish. However, the issue is that they have to co-operate, if not, then they have no chance.

I actually think someone like Sagan might attack on the Poggio.

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The World Champion is clearly in scintillating form but I’m sure even he will be concerned with the quality of sprinters that can make it over the final climb if the pace isn’t too high. He is the one of the fastest men in the World after a tough day and I’m sure he’ll do everything in his powers to ensure that he has the best chance at winning the race. Being beaten by Gaviria in Tirreno this week gone by won’t have done his confidence much use, but I guess Sagan being Sagan, he doesn’t need any more confidence!

Another reason I think Sagan might not wait around for a sprint is that Bora also have the handy second card to play of Sam Bennett. The Irishman took a breakthrough and much deserved win in Paris-Nice, beating some of the fastest pure sprinters in the World. That impressed me, but what impressed me more was his intermediate sprint win the next day. “Eh?!” I can imagine you say, thinking I’ve clearly lost the plot. Well, that intermediate sprint came after the stage started with a Cat-1 climb and the peloton was only 60-riders strong over the top, with the likes of Demare being dropped. Not Bennett though, he was up there beating Matthews and Gilbert. He certainly seems to have found his climbing legs and the Poggio shouldn’t be a challenge for him! Which leads me on to the other sprinters here…

Sprinters

We have plenty of them here, with only Kittel, Greipel and Groenewegen being the notable absentees.

I’m not going to bore you with a little bit on each sprint option (plenty of others will cover them more succinctly and concisely), as I’m already close to the 1000 word mark and I have a few other scenarios/riders I want to cover. So like I’ve been doing quite a bit recently, I’m going to focus on one rider and he’s a selection that might surprise you!

Mark Cavendish.

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The 2009 winner has had a relatively uninspiring but solid start to his 2017 season, picking up only one victory so far in Abu Dhabi. He wasn’t competitive at this race last year due to his Olympics build up, but will be hoping for better this year. Nonetheless, he looks like a tough rider to argue for, yet I’ll give it my best shot.

It’s his slow burning season that’s actually making me believe in his chances here. Before the Tour last year I had written him off as he didn’t seem to be having a great year and seemed past it. He went on to win 4 stages. Before the World Champs I ruled him out as he said he was ill in the week leading up to the event and had gone a bit off the boil post TDF, with only a 6th at Paris-Tours being a notable result. He went on to finish second. Really though, he should have won! He just chose the wrong wheel and got a bit boxed in. There is a recurring theme here; just when he seems to be out of it, he bags a result. The Manxman certainly knows how to peak for key targets. His recent performance in Tirreno fits the above agenda quite nicely and reminds me of a certain Irishman.

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The above screenshot is from an interview in Rouleur magazine with Sean Kelly (view it here). Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Write off Cavendish at your peril this weekend!

Outsiders

There are plenty of puncheurs and classics riders I could highlight but I’m returning to Dimension Data for my second rider.

Edvald Boasson Hagen has long been a favourite of mine. The guy oozed class and talent on a bike and it’s a shame for him he’s around in the same era as the likes of Sagan and GVA as I feel he gets overlooked at times.

The Norwegian was on the attack here in the final kilometres last year and only a few managed to follow him. I expect something similar this year, even if Cavendish makes it over the top of the Poggio in the main group. He’s without a win this season but he has looked strong in Strade, bridging across to the front group on his own. Likewise, his two top 10 TT results indicate to me that he’s peaking a lot more slowly this year compared to his blistering start last season. He can win solo by attacking, or could take out a sprint win from a small group and I don’t think there would be many cycling fans out there who would begrudge a Boasson Hagen win!

My final rider is a proper outsider and one that I have mentioned a lot over the past week in Paris Nice; Alexey Lutsenko.

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The Astana man has had a strong but fruitless start to the season. He was never outside the top 30 in Oman and finished a very respectable 11th in the tough TT during Paris Nice. The Kazakh outfit are without a top quality sprinter in their squad, but Lutsenko can certainly fill the void. Like EBH, he is capable of attacking late on in the race or challenging for the win in a very reduced sprint. He did win the U23 World’s in a very similar fashion! A talented rider who I think is going to have a very good season, a win here would certainly shock a few but not me. He will still need some luck to go his way, but who doesn’t here!

Prediction

A sprint is the most likely option but I think we’ll see a more attacking race this year and a move within the final 2km could well stick. He tried it last year and was unlucky to be marked out of it, but I think this year he might just make it with everyone else marking Sagan. Boasson Hagen to take a memorable victory!

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Betting

Cavendish 1pt EW @18/1 with Bet365 (Would take down to 14s available elsewhere)

Boasson Hagen 0.75pts EW @80/1 with Bet365 (Would take down to 50s)

Lutsenko 0.25pts EW @300/1 with PP/Bet365 (Would take down to 200s).

 

Thanks very much for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated as always. Who do you think is going to win La Classicissima? Will we see a sprint or a late attack stick? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

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