La Classicissima di Primavera is already upon us and to me certainly, the first few months of the season have flown by. Milano Sanremo marks the start of Spring well almost, as the Spring Equinox is technically on Tuesday, but we’ll just ignore that for now!
The 2017 edition of the race saw an attack on the Poggio actually stick for the first time in a while, when Sagan made his move 500m from the summit. Kwiatkowski and Alaphilippe attempted to bridge straight away but it wasn’t easy, with the Frenchman latching on before the Pole made it a trio not long after. As expected, they let Sagan do the majority of the work; taking turns here and there. Despite the chase from behind the trio had enough of a buffer to sprint for the win which resulted in one of the more famous finish line photos in recent years.
Although technically it is from after the line but anyhow…
Kwiatkowski just edged Sagan, with Alaphilippe finishing a wheel length down in third. Will we see the same protagonists this year? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.
Same as always, innit.
A route for the purists, MSR is certainly not a race I would show to someone who was new to cycling! The day is really about two climbs and even then, it is more or less about one.
First up though, is the Cipressa.
At 5.6km in length and with an average gradient of 4.1% it is enough to put some of the sprinters into difficulty if they’re on a bad day. For that to happen though, a team needs to come to the front and really drive the pace on. We might even see a few attacks here but it is unlikely they will survive.
Afer a descent, the flat roads continue until the Poggio.
Cresting with just under 6kms to go it is a very tempting launchpad for attacks as we saw last year. Taken in isolation the climb itself isn’t very tough but considering they start it after almost 280km then fatigue does play a part. A power climb, the sprinters will hope to hold onto the back of the bunch as they fly up it.
A dangerous and fast descent follows before the final 2kms flatten out and we get the famous finish along the via Roma.
It looks set to be a mixed bag on Saturday with showers expected throughout the day and along the route.
However, the forecast at the moment does appear to be much kinder for Sanremo itself, although that sudden jump in the wind is certainly interesting.
Some showers throughout the day in theory both aid a late attack sticking and don’t at the same time. It could be argued that a lot of the riders will be more tired and maybe won’t have the legs in the closing kilometres to chase and the more traditional classics riders will benefit from this. However, things could stick together more as the sting will be taken out of the attack. Go figure!
Bunch sprint or not?
The perennial question for this race and we’ll only find out at the very end of the day.
The above graph is from Inrng and highlights how far out any winning move was launched. Some of the editions had smaller bunches sprint it out, including in the torrential edition of 2013 when a group escaped on the descent of the Poggio.
Last year was a bit of an anomaly given the rise of the “classics sprinter” which has meant there are plenty of fast men left to compete in a sprint. The Poggio itself is easy for a lot of the modern sprinters as more of them are able to manage climbs such as it compared to the past. They can cope with a fairly increased pace.
However, as we saw last year the elastic can snap with a stinging attack. It then becomes a question of who wants to chase and how quickly they organise vs the workload up ahead.
Some teams arrive with options for both outcomes while others are solely focussed around their leader.
What will Sagan do?
A lot of what happens in the finale on Saturday will be based around what the current World Champion does; he desperately wants this monument on his palmares. The one who sparked the winning move last year will he attack again this year? In Tirreno he was very strong in the sprints but he was somewhat disappointing on the longer, more traditional classics stages. There is a chance that if he goes on the attack then he will get worked over like he did last year.
Given his form in the sprints and stamina, I actually think he should wait for the gallop to the line.
If he does that, then it throws up yet another conundrum as it both increases any attackers chances but also might hinder them.
In theory any escapees will be more willing to work together as they don’t have Sagan to worry about in a sprint. Yet, if Sagan stays in the peloton then it means his Bora team will be chasing which will be another team chasing them down.
I favour sprint 80% : late attack 20%.
Even though plenty have dropped out due to illness we still have a quality field here as you would expect. I’m not going to bore you by going into great detail about them all though, as I’m sure you’ll read plenty of previews for this weekend and nobody has any time to read the same stuff 10 times!
The winner of the 2016 edition has started his season well, with strong showings in Omloop and Kuurne before taking a stage win in Paris Nice. He left that race early to prepare for here which could be a good move given how sick everyone else seemed to get. He should feature in any sprint we get.
It’s great to see the Gorilla back near his best performances this season after 2017 was a struggle due to family issues. He’s back racing with a smile on his face! With two World Tour wins to his name so far this season, he’s also done his fair share of work for his team-mates. Something that he hope will be repaid here and Lotto Soudal bring a squad with them that is geared towards setting up a sprint. Greipel hasn’t been great in the past but that might change this year.
Can he make it over the Poggio? Hmmm, I don’t think so.
The Italian will want a hard race and he comes here as Bahrain’s sprinter. He pulled out of Tirreno due to illness so it will be interesting to see if he has recovered. Could pull off a shock in the right circumstance.
The winner of a wet edition back in 2014, he’s had a solid start to his season. He was ill during Paris Nice and dropped out on the 7th stage but is apparently feeling a bit better now. He has a strong team with him including Swift and Ulissi, but will they stick to team orders and work for him? If it does come down to a sprint, a fully fit Kristoff would be a favourite but the question marks still loom over his health.
Flying this year, he will be QuickStep’s sprint option if Alaphilippe’s inevitable attack gets brought back. With a strong team around him, he should get a good lead-out which will help a lot. Can he continue his great season?
Constantly near the front in this race, he’s only managed one race day so far this season, and he didn’t even complete that. Nonetheless, he is a rider that always seems to come out of the blocks firing, just look at his first few race results in the past seasons, so he can’t be discounted completely. He’s probably just not fast enough to win on a flat finish unless he comes in with some attackers. Maybe Sunweb will look to Theuns.
A commendable 10th place in his first race here last season he’ll hope to go better this time around. He’s another that has pulled out of their recent stage race so who knows how he’ll go here. Mitchelton do have the back up of a very strong Matteo Trentin.
Started this year as a rank outsider for this race but his performances in the early part of the season have brought him much closer to the favourites. I’d argue that he is now one of the best climbing sprinters in the peloton and he’ll be hoping for a fierce pace on the Poggio. If that is the case and things do come back for a gallop, against some tired fast-man he has every chance of taking a good result.
Modolo, Boasson Hagen and Stuyven could all get up to fight for a good result too.
There is a chance someone or a group of riders escapes in the finale. No doubt you’ll hear a lot about last year’s protagonists but I’ll suggest another two to maybe keep an eye on.
Can you remember back to last year’s preview when I mentioned Lutsenko as a potential outsider? Well, he’s had a pretty phenomenal 12 months since then and it is good to see him take the step up to match his undoubted talent levels. A rather unbelievable GC win in Oman earlier in the year was followed up with a great team role in Omloop, helping Valgren to win the race. He’s been a little bit quiet since then but I expect Astana to be in an attacking mood on Saturday. They’ll save Cort for the sprint with Sanchez and Lutsenko as the likely protagonists. A brute of a rider, he could come over the top of a group of escapees and hold onto the line. He’s not good a bad turn of speed either and he is one to watch!
Another rider who had a bit of breakout year in 2017, I expect him to step up another level this season. He has bags upon bags of quality; he is a back-to-back Junior and U-23 World Champion after all. It seems as if he has been in the pro peloton for a while (this is his 5th season at the top-level) but he’s remarkably only 23 years old. Having already competed in 4 Grand Tours, it is scary to think what he can do in a few seasons. One-day races are his forte and he recently won the GP Industria after a crazy attack on the descent. Could we something similar on Saturday?
I think it will all come back for a sprint with Andre Greipel victorious.
His performances this year have really impressed me, even in the stages that he hasn’t won. Climbing better than ever, I think he’ll tough it out and stay in contact with the bunch over the top of the Poggio. Lotto Soudal are built with a team focussed around him, suggesting they are equally confident in his abilities to go well. Looking ahead at the weather conditions we might have a headwind sprint along the via Roma; who can remember my “fact that might not be a fact” from earlier in the year?
I have some antepost bets on Viviani at 33/1 and Cort at 100/1 but I don’t think I could advise their prices just now.
1pt EW Greipel at 50/1.
He was that price earlier in the week when I pointed him out on Twitter but it has since shortened. He’s 33/1 in some places but I would take the 20/1 available with most. No lower though.
1pt EW Lutsenko at 100/1.
Again, another that I pointed out on Twitter. He’s now into 66/1 with others that I would take.
0.5pt WIN Mohoric at 100/1 (with Bet365)
Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win? Will we see a sprint or will a late attack prosper? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.