by Fabio Valente (twitter: @cyclingideas_)
When March comes, every cycling fan knows it is time for the best one-day races of the season. It’s classics time and all begins for real with Milano-Sanremo, or La Classica di Primavera as some like to call it. Having its first edition back to 1907, this race is one of the most ancient and full of history of the modern ones, collecting stories and memories of the first cycling champions ever. Looking at the palmares, you can easily see how local riders have always performed greatly, gaining 50 of the 107 editions raced until now, even if the last italian win happened 12 years ago, in 2006 (Filippo Pozzato). In spite of this numbers, belgian Eddy Merckx helds the record for most MSR wins (7), ahead of Girardengo (6), while Cavendish, Gerrans, Kwiatkowski, Kristoff, Degenkolb and Demare are the only active rider who already lifted their hands up in Sanremo.
The route of Milano-Sanremo has not seen deep changes since its first edition: the usual start from Milano, in Via della Chiesa Rossa, marks the beginning of the opening classic of the season and same can be said for the traditional finish in Sanremo, which is considered one of the most beloved places for every cycling fan. To ride from one city to the other, riders will have to cover a 291km-long route, which includes the well-known climb of Passo del Turchino, with still about 150km left. This little climb will not affect the outcome of the race as it used to do in the past as its distance from the finish line is too big for a successful attack. Cipressa and Poggio will be, as always, the keys of this race: both coming in the last 30kms of the race, they will determinate if the race will end in a sprint or in a little group/solo victory.
These places represent the perfect chances for riders like Sagan, Alaphilippe, Kwiatkowski to high the pace and get rid of pure and faster sprinters. The sprinters’ team, on the contrary, will try to cover every attack to keep the race together until the last kms, where the sprint train will start to form. Last year we saw a perfect move by the named trio (Sagan, Alaphilippe, Kwaitkowski) to avoid a bunch
sprint: will the same happen this year too?
According to the most reliable italian weather forecast sites, we should have a wet race. Rain is expected to pour down in Milano and in Sanremo all day long, with showers on the route somewhere. Temperatures will constantly be around 8-12 °C so it will not be a freezing day for the peloton but almost an enjoyable one. Wind should not play a key role as it will be almost absent during the finsl stint of the race.
Team strenghth and contenders (prices from b365)
Here we go with the usual analysis of the possible contenders, rating the chances of the best ones for a win in Sanremo or a noble placement. Team SKY lines up defending champion Michal Kwiatkowski (8/1), who is without any doubt one of the big favourites for the win Saturday. He has all it is required to repeat last year win, starting from a good shape and motivation: he has been prepairing and targeting this race pretty well, training specifically during the last few days. If he wants to double his 2017 win he has to try something on the Poggio, though. Second card for SKY could be Gianni Moscon (40/1).
Odds’ favourite (and very, very short, I would say) is Peter Sagan (2/1 or less). Leading the Bora-Hansgrohe team, the world champion will look for revenge after missing the win for inches last year. His tactic can be easily guessed, as he can’t wait for the final bunch sprint: a powerful, lethal attack will be launched on the Poggio in order to abandon the big group and fly with a few companions (or maybe alone?) toward the win. Daniel Oss and Marcus Burghardt to help him through the race.
Another team with multiple and serious chances of a MSR win is Quick-Step Floors: even if missing Fernando Gaviria (hand injury for him), the wolves have some interesting cards to play for various scenarios. I expect Julian Alaphilippe (14/1) to be very active in the last 30 kms, maybe trying to go away on Cipressa or Poggio. If this first try fails, QS can rely on the fast wheels of Elia Viviani (10/1), who is one of my favourites if it ends in a sprint. Sabatini, Keisse and Richeze are some power for a fast finish. Last mention for Philippe Gilbert: can he surprise?
A man who can never rule out when the classic’s season start: Greg Van Avermaet (BMC, 22/1). I know, Milano-Sanremo is not the best one for him, but if able to follow some of the final attacks coming from Sagan and the others, he can be a tamed one in a little group going into the finish. I don’t think it will be an easy task for him, but BMC’s hopes are at 99% on his shoulders. He will fight, as he is used to do.
Lots of the best sprinters in the world come to Milano-Sanremo with ambitions: just to name some of them I would say Marcel Kittel, Andrè Greipel, Arnaud Demare, Alexander Kristoff, Mark Cavendish and Caleb Ewan. Captain for Team Katusha, Marcel Kittel (66/1) has very few chances to me: I think the race will become a furious one on the Poggio and maybe even before on Cipressa. The heavy german sprinter will fatigue to keep the pace of the attacks and might come to the finish line behind or too tired for a winning sprint. I apply the same talk to Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data, 80/1), who is also recovering from his last crash and Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton Scott, 40/1).
Riding for Team UAE, a 100% Alexander Kristoff (8/1) could stand his chances in MSR, but unluckily he has been dealing with some health issues during the last days and his form is far from the best one: after a great ride in 2017, 2018 could have been his year again. Arnaud Demare (FDJ, 11/1) looks a pretty good choice to me: his form is there and he showed very good skills in difficult, long and rainy conditions. He has a fast finish and can deal with little climbs like Poggio or Cipressa, so I would not be surprised to find him sprinting for the win tomorrow. About Andrè Greipel (Lotto Soudal, 16/1), I keep thinking he is not the gorilla of the old days, but whenever I write these words he surprise me and wins the stage/race the day before. I can just say he opened at 40/1 and he is now into 16/1: some punters have faith in him for tomorrow…
A paragraph for who might surprise at good odds: a rider I always liked is Magnus Cort Nielsen (25/1), who could be the best chance for Team Astana tomorrow. He will not be slowered by Poggio nor Cipressa and he has a very fast sprint: for different reasons, but looking at his fine form and attacking style, also Aleksey Lutsenko (40/1) could be worth a penny. Team Bahrain Merida offers both a first choice pick and an awesome high-priced long-shot: Sonny Colbrelli (22/1) would be an ideal choice with bad weather in a race like MSR, but he has been ill until yesterday and I will not be backing him at that price. I am very interested in Matej Mohoric (80/1): the boy is a fine talent and won GP Larciano with a magnificent action: a tempting price for tomorrow. Last names for an attacking move or a chance in the end are: Michael Matthews and Ed Theuns (Team Sunweb, at 40/1 and not priced), Matteo Trentin and Daryl Impey (both Mitchelton Scott, at 33/1 and 200/1), Oliver Naesen (AG2R, 200/1).
Second leg sprinters can be found in Trek Segafredo (Jasper Stuyven, 80/1), Dimension Data (Edvald Boasson Hagen, 100/1), Lotto NL Jumbo (Danny Van Poppel, 100/1), Nippo Vini Fantini (JJ Lobato, 200/1), Team Cofidis (Christophe Laporte, 200/1), BMC (Jurgen Roelandts, 100/1), Education Drapac Team (Sacha Modolo, 80/1), Wilier Triestina SI (Jakub Mareczko but not in his best shape, 250/1).
When it comes to decide which names to picks, the choice becomes an hard one. I will be going with Michal Kwiatkowski (8/1) and Elia Viviani (10/1) as my main picks. Smaller punts on Julian Alaphilippe EW (15/1) and Arnaud Demare (12/1). Outsiders: Aleksey Lutsenko (40/1), Matej Mohoric EW (80/1) and Danny Van Poppel EW (100/1)