Milan-Sanremo Preview

This Saturday’s Milan-Sanremo is all about is tense finish, the longest race of the year that’s often down to the smallest of differences and a race where every pedal stroke counts. The list of contenders and pretenders is long with grand tour contenders, classics specialists and sprinters all starting with ambitions. Who will ride the perfect race?

The Route: a 9.8km neutral roll out from the Vigorelli velodrome just north of the traditional start, and then 293km. The race traverses the vast Po valley and the plains that grow much of Italy’s rice crop. At 117km Ovada marks the start of the long Passo del Turchino. It used to be important to the race but it’s a slow and gradual climb, a railway runs alongside. Turchino means a shade of blue in Italian, hinting at the Mediterranean sea that awaits on the other side. The pass is a symbolic moment, lifting riders away from the wintry plains and down to the Mediterranean with its palm trees and blooming flowers, winter to spring over one pass.

There’s a stressful descent with tunnels to the outskirts of Genova. The halfway point is crossed but the finish feels closer, the coastal road familiar. The race goes from one town to another, negotiating modern street furniture and antiquated town squares alike. The cape trinity: Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta are small climbs but serve as landmarks to break up the flat road and by now the race has done 250km.

Then it’s on to the Cipressa (more detail). This starts with sharp right hander and quickly climbs through olive groves above San Lorenzo and the 9% gradient bites after 270km. This is a proper moment of climbing that ejects sprinters, the average of 4% is a blend of a steep start and a flat balcony over the top where dropped riders flounder. There’s a toboggan descent, the most technical part of the entire course. The race continues along the coastal road, the Via Aurelia where riders jostle for position for 9km before the final climb.

The Poggio (more here) starts with 9.2km to go and marks the final phase of the race. A furious pace is inevitable. A right flick off the main coastal road is followed by series of wide bends that are so fast some riders have to brake before entry despite going uphill. Positioning is everything as the road winds up, every metre matters. Unlike the Cipressa this isn’t steep, there’s only one short step at 8% but this is often exploited as the place to attack. After 285km the peloton’s elastic is like a old rubber band and the Poggio is just enough snap things.

The Finish: under the 1km banner and it’s left at the fountain, then right on the wide Via Roma.

The Contenders
It’s easy to cite the contenders but hard to pick a winner. The beauty of this race is that so many start with hopes of winning, yet converting this into victory is a delicate affair, some excess pedals strokes here, a touch of the brakes there and it is game over for another year. Plus this year a wave of illness is causing many riders to sit this one out and while this might increase the chances of some named below, they could also wake up with a sore throat on Saturday.

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is the prime pick. A previous winner, he can go clear on the Poggio, both on the climb or the descent, and can win a group sprint. If others try to make the race hard his chances go up because it’ll drop the sprinters. He’s got a strong team with Primož Roglič as a joker, perhaps he can mark moves or he’ll just apply himself in the service of van Aert, in return for the Nice help. Ordinarily Christophe Laporte would be an outside pick but he’s often faded in races beyond 200km and besides his team have a stronger candidate.

Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) is bringing a lot of interest to the race. He’s been making big solo moves this season so will he try something extravagant here? The roads to Sanremo are so fast that a lone rider will struggle and while we might not have seen someone of Pogačar’s ability for a long time, over the years all attempts to launch on the Cipressa have come to nothing.

As the chart shows it’s been over a quarter of a century since an attack here paid off, in recent years the pace has been so high that nobody has even tried. This doesn’t make the climb redundant because teams wary of sprinters hit it hard to eject or blunt their heavier rivals. Pogačar will be heavily marked in a way that he wasn’t in recent races, when he attacked on the Carpegna in Tirreno-Adriatico nobody could go as it was so steep and there were few left. The classic way for someone like him to win is to go on the Poggio and see who is in the mix on the descent and then try to win the sprint, yes to play the percentages but he’ll need to gamble a touch or find a faster rider passing him on the Via Roma. He’s got some handy team mates including Alessandro Covi.

There’s no Julian Alaphilippe and we ought to dwell on this for a moment as he’s been instrumental in recent years with his Poggio attacks: someone else will have to move. Quick-Step replace him with Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step) who will sit as tight as he can. The race is accessible to sprinters like Jakobsen but there’s never a traditional bunch sprint, as the chart above shows, a large group coming into Sanremo is ~30 riders. Can he cope with the climbing? He was last seen being ejected on a climb in Paris-Nice but that was a longer effort after a day with more climbing. Florian Sénéchal has a chance too.

Last year’s winner Jasper Stuyven is one of many absentees because of illness, so Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) is a late call-up and perhaps a wise one given his form in Paris-Nice, he’s been floating on the climbs and packs a powerful sprint.

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) is another late entrant. It’s his first race on the road since Paris-Roubaix last autumn and the chronic back injury. Still the comeback is no shock as he was always due to resume racing next week in Italy. This race is all about finesse and concentration and that’s not really his thing, which is part of his appeal. Still he ought to be suited to the Poggio + Sprint combo that so often settles the race. Jasper Philipsen comes in under the radar now but seems made for Sanremo, a sprinter who packs a punch on the climbs.

Ineos come with four plausible winners in Tom Pidcock, Filippo Ganna, Elia Viviani and Ethan Hayter, plus past winner in Michał Kwiatkowski. Pidcock didn’t start Strade Bianche and hasn’t been seen since, until then he’d had a quiet start on the road, making some moves but nothing more yet and returns to a race he came close to winning at his first go last year. Ganna’s another option if he’s not used up on the Poggio… or earlier as he’s been ill in recent days but if he can stay with the best over the climb he can use the descent or the flat run into Sanremo to get away à la Cancellara.

Past winner Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) had a decent Tirreno-Adriatico with two close calls in the sprint, no wins but he was in the mix. Another previous winner is Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché) but he’s 34 now, team mate Biniam Girmay is 21 and a fast finisher who can cope with the climbs but this is his first start.

This is a race where you look at the start sheet and can see opportunities for half the field to win, if so-and-so can make the front group they’ve got a chance. Yet look at the recent winners and it’s a pantheon of great one day racers, there are no fluke winners. Still, a few longshots… Søren Kragh Andersen (DSM) was up there last year with Stuyven and he had a frisky Paris-Nice. Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) has been chasing this race for several years and has twice stood on the podium. But how to get on the top step? Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel) is a consistent rider due a big win. Matej Mohorič (Bahrain) can deliver big wins but how to get clear or how to win the sprint, he could try to sneak away in the streets of Sanremo. Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r Citroën) is on the up, but that’s the trend and in the present moment he’s got allergy issues with the spring pollen, maybe Andrea Vendrame can cause an upset? Cofidis are doing well but it’s a giant ask for Bryan Coquard and Ben Thomas.

Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) should have won this race several times given his abilities and this shows just how elusive the race can be but also how he’s been marked and perhaps this time he’ll have a bit more space.

Wout van Aert
Tadej Pogačar
Tom Pidcock, Mads Pedersen, Jasper Philipsen
Démare, Mohorič, MvdP, Matthews, Ganna
SKA, Nizzolo, Vendrame, Sagan, Covi

Weather: typical Milan-Sanremo weather: cloudy and cool in Milan and then largely sunny with warmer temperatures by the coast, a top temperature of 17°C. Crucially there will be a tailwind for much of the Via Aurelia coastal road and this means a crosswind for parts of the Poggio, which helps to split things up.

TV: it’s on RAI and Eurosport/GCN. The flag drops for the racing at 10:10 and the finish is forecast for around 5.10pm CET. Forecast time for Ovada and the start of Turchino is 1.00pm, the top of the pass 1.40pm. The capi start at 3.45pm and the Cipressa begins around 4.25pm.

51 thoughts on “Milan-Sanremo Preview”

  1. People are talking about Pogacar attacking on the Cipressa. I wouldn’t be that surprised if he attacks on the Turchino.
    If he does win he’ll have won the last 3 monuments, I’m presuming that no one has done that since Merckx (and possibly no one before either)?

    • It’s worth tuning in early just to see when / if Pogacar goes.
      He’d need companions though, with that tailwind.
      Otherwise it’s the usual stare-off on the Poggio, who blinks first.
      Van der Poet’s late inclusion is very interesting, he tends not to just make the numbers up, to put it mildly.
      Surely Pogacar can’t win this race though?

        • He obviously can, but I’m surprised at the expectation in some places that he’s going to do something superhuman. The Cipressa isn’t the same as a steep climb within a tough Strade-Bianche – the peloton will be huge and relatively fresh. Surely his best chance is attacking on the Poggio and winning like Nibali, Kwiatkowski, Alaphillipe etc? Surprised there’s not as much enthusiasm for Roglic – he’s got a similarly impressive kick and everyone is likely to be watching WVA.

          • I think that Nibali’s win has given the race a mystique that I’m not convinced it deserves in a modern context.
            Nibali profited from the two outstanding riders, Sagan and Kwiatkowski, messing about and the entire peloton was watching them while he carried on regardless.
            There was a long history between that particular pair, and the Pole had often picked Sagan’s pocket at the till.
            Whilst we’ve obviously got an established rivalry in WvA and MvdP, they haven’t resorted to those antics as yet.
            I just don’t see Pogacar winning this race. Famous last words!

          • I agree completely. Nibali was a deserved winner but it’s not like he dominated the field to win. A bit of luck. I don’t see how any favorites get away on the Poggio without some luck involved.

            I like the Covi 1 chainring though. 😉

          • Anybody who gets over the Poggio can win, whether you’re on you’re own, with a couple of others or with twenty others. Every year a group gets over there is that moment on the flat after the Poggio where nobody wants to go on the front and nobody wants to follow a move. If you make that move you can win.

          • Long-range lone attacks keep working because others don’t work together to chase, which seems to be the case more nowadays, or am I imagining it?

    • Covid is part of it, the other part seems to be some kind of viral stomach illness. In the peloton it’s easy to get a lungful of unwanted aerosol from others, but there’s talk it could be new strain of virus or that riders have reduced or unprepared immune systems because of Covid and all that’s gone on with it.

      • C19’s been around for 2 years and riders weren’t getting sick right left and center. For sure they have compromised immune systems, but you are not allowed to mention the reason why this is the case. Surely it is not because of covid.

  2. Is anybody else more excited than previous years for Milan-San Remo?

    To me with the wide range of riders riding, it feels like anything could happen. I’m though sad that Caleb Ewan isn’t riding as he could have been a factor from a sprint of view.

    I think I’m going to have to tune in earlier this year just in case something happens!

  3. Thinking like a DS you have to expect Lotto Jumbo to lean on them. They’ll be looking to lean on UAE. If you don’t make those two teams work you are lost. But Pogacar is going to cancel all bets if he’s not put in the wind at some point.

  4. As Ewan is out I will go with Petersen. This race seems to be one somewhat for the outsiders and his winning sprint IA P-N was one to remember.

  5. My out on a limb prediction: Roglic makes a move on Cipressa. Only Pogacar can follow. Other teams chase and have a really hard time reeling them in, shedding most of the peleton in the process. Eventually the Slovenians are caught in the last km by Ganna pulling for Pidcock, who comes third in the sprint to Van Aert (1) and Pedersen (2).

  6. One of the more interesting scenarios is if Pogacar goes and there’s no Jumbo with him – they it’s on them to chase and others to tag along. I’m not sure Roglic can follow Pogacar. One really interesting scenario is Pogacar and Mvdp go on the Cipressa – now that would be the cat amongst the pigeons!

    • Pogacar can’t drop Roglic on the Cipressa, nor Van Aert or many other riders: it’s not steep enough. They’d have to let him go. I don’t think they will because a hard race suits Van Aert as other sprinters will be dropping. I think Jumbo will fly up the Cipressa.

  7. I would love to see MvdP battling it out for the win but that would be a miracle since he has not raced at all this year and has only done serious training for the last month. Check out his Strava account, he has been posting every ride.

  8. Not a big name but why not Coquard in a sprint from à reduced bunch? He’s not a favourite but he has form and a team than can provide some protection.

  9. Can Pogo’s team wear down Mads P on Cipressa in order for Pogo and WVA to drop him on Poggio – if not, its a done deal and Mads P wins.

  10. “The beauty of this race is that so many start with hopes of winning, yet converting this into victory is a delicate affair and some excess pedals strokes here, a touch of the brakes there and it is game over for another year.”
    Bravo! There’s a soft spot for PhilGil to somehow complete his collection of monument victories while wishing for Pogacar (or someone else?) to try a Coppi-esque attack to really up the drama.
    The REAL cycling season begins today. Buon divertimento tutti!

    • Today does seem like the first day of spring, not just a a proper race after the various warm ups but the joy of reading Inrng’s prose and incisive comments.

      Never a race to try to pick a winner, even more so this year with the amount of illness in the Peloton. It might just be a year for a completely left field victor, someone for whom it will be there only major race win.

  11. With 20 UCI points down to 30th and 10 down to 50th, riders from EF through Movistar, BikeExchange, Intermarché, IPT, Cofidis and Lotto-Soudal will be expected to ride in for a handful of points rather than climbing into the team car when their work is done.

    We see too how time moves on when, in a long classic with a sting in the tail, and a probable reduced-bunch sprint, GVA doesn’t even get a mention.

  12. I know it is not to everyone’s taste but have missed the Eurosport commentary too. Nothing quite says “summer” like Carlton Kirby and the team trying to fill in the “boring” bits chuntering on endlessly about Richie Benaud or whatever.

  13. Having just watched a week of horse racing at Cheltenham, winning first time out after a long lay off isn’t normally the best way to win a big race. Which is what MvdP is trying to do – he’s done many stunning things, but even him winning today would be miraculous.
    However, the 300km in a racing environment will do him good, and he’ll come on for the race.

    Where or when will Pogacar launch? And can Van Aert go with him? If he can he may win a sprint from a small group.

  14. Nice call:
    “Matej Mohorič (Bahrain) can deliver big wins but how to get clear or how to win the sprint, he could try to sneak away in the streets of Sanremo.”

    • Yep, I was all happy about skill/daring/tactics in this win…until the guy started bragging about the dropper seatpost gimmick he used to beat the rest on the Poggio descent. They banned him sitting on the top tube, now they need to ban these gizmos as well, though I have to give him a bit of credit trying it as I assume the UCI wasn’t smart enough to anticipate and ban this gizmo beforehand. MOTOGP is dealing with similar gizmos at present and I’m hoping they get banned as well.

      • Mohoric beat everbody on a downhill before, with or without a Gizmo, so what’s the point beside #yellingGrandpa and where’s the big benefit of the Gizmo?

        • I guess you missed the part where he bragged about it making the difference? “If he was so great on descents compared to the others, why did he need/use the gizmo?” asks Grandpa, without yelling 🙂

      • I’m less bothered by the “gizmo” and more bothered by the motorbike which couldn’t descend fast enough and so surely gave Mohoric some benefit? Did it make the difference between winning and losing…who knows, but possibly…

  15. Does anyone really think the dropper post made enough of a difference?

    I think the favourites were marking each other and let a dangerous underrated rider up the road…

    • I don’t think any of the favourites thought: oh, look, it’s just Mohoric, no need to bother, he won’t be a problem…
      But if there indeed was a favourite who – or whose DS – hadn’t ranked Mohoric as one of the serious winner candidates and perhaps one of the most dangerous riders at that very moment, he was frighteningly unprofessional!
      I mean I certainly wasn’t the only one who had ranked him immediately below the trio or the quartet of everyone’s favourites – and as the one rider who would be dangerous on the downhill and the one who could “do a Stuyven”.

    • “Does anyone really think the dropper post made enough of a difference?”
      Uh, yes, the man said so himself. Who knows better than him? Unless it turns out he has shares in a “Mohoric Dropper Seatpost Company” I think he’s telling the truth – after all he’s the guy credited (blamed) for the sitting-on-the-toptube idea, no?

      • Mohoric wasn’t the first one to use a dropper in a road race. Nibali did it in 2014. And the Mavic neutral bikes have them too. I ride mtb a lot and I can tell you they definitely improve safe handling on descents, even on the road. Making them mandatory would make more sense to me than prohibiting.
        And dropper or no dropper, Mohoric is a class act when it comes to finishes like this. He can take time on a descent and he iis one of those riders that is incredibly hard to pull back once he has a small gap in the final 3k.

Comments are closed.