By David Hunter
Milan – Sanremo 291km
The first monument of the season is here.
The longest and possibly the dullest race of the season. I’ll not apologise for upsetting you purists out there, this race is a test of stamina for fans, as much as it is for the riders.
The opening 260km is all about trying to tire the legs of the riders, before the race really begins.
The Cipressa starts the battle for positions. All teams want to be in a good position, at the foot of the climb, and that leads to nervous riders. Those nervous riders have a terrible habit of crashing and these crashes usually have an impact on the overall winner.
Once the Cipressa has been dealt with, we head towards the Poggio. Funny to think that this was once a feared climb, now the riders grind up it, almost without breaking sweat. The main issue with the Poggio is that it’s very hard for riders to get a gap on the bunch, it just isn’t hard enough. Some sprinters will be dropped, but that’s mainly due to a lack of form. The vast majority of sprinters make it over the climb.
Once over the climb, we have a tricky descent to negotiate. The riders fly down the hill, going at crazy speeds. It is possible to create a gap, especially with the help of crashes. The descent can be more important than the climb.
The Final 2.5km
This is where the race gets exciting. When we reach the flat of the Via Roma, we will see lots of attacks. Riders not confident in their sprint have a small opportunity to strike. Looking to deny them will be teammates of the big sprinters. In 2016, Matteo Trentin managed to close down a very dangerous attack from Fabian Cancellara. Fernando Gaviria surprisingly then covered the move of EBH and GVA, before crashing.
With such a small amount of time before the sprint, there is only a small window of opportunity for the attackers, that’s why it usually ends in a big sprint.
The flat run for home does allow a rider to make up positions, if they have dropped down the bunch at the end of the climb, or on the descent. Teammates are worth their weight in gold. Most teams struggle for numbers at the end of the race, the distance does seriously deplete most squads. If a sprinter has a couple of men left, they are in a great position.
A cloudy but dry day. There isn’t much wind around either.
Peter Sagan – after a brilliant start to 2017, the world champion is the favourite to win the race. The history books would disagree, as Sagan has only finished on the podium here on one occasion. He does possess a fast sprint, especially after 300km, but is he faster than the other quick men here? His best option could be to attack on the Poggio, but that rarely works. This is not an easy race for Sagan to win.
Fernando Gaviria – we will never know if the Colombian would have won here in 2016. He’s started 2017 in good form, with two wins in San Juan, one win in the Algarve and one in Tirreno. At just 22 years old, is he too young to win a monument? Unfortunately he crashed during training on Thursday and damaged his wrist. Gaviria will start the race, but it will be very difficult to challenge when not at 100%
Arnaud Demare – the defending champion, after a controversial win. It was claimed that he was aided by a car on the Cipressa, but it wasn’t proven to be. He certainly got lucky in the sprint, as Bouhanni dropped a chain. Demare already has three wins this season, an impressive return, especially his big win in Paris-Nice. It would be a surprise to see him defending his title.
Alexander Kristoff – three wins in Oman was good, but he wasn’t up against the top sprinters. He failed to win in Paris-Nice, not a great sign for the big Norwegian. Although a hugely talented rider, I just don’t see him winning this race.
John Degenkolb – only has one win in 2017. That doesn’t sound like the form required to threaten in this race. Trek will hope to see him feature on the podium, but winning it seems out of his reach.
Mark Cavendish – won here way back in 2009, a long time ago! The last couple of times he’s visited, he hasn’t even made the sprint. We all know that Cavendish can target races with huge success, but I’m unsure if he can climb the Poggio at the speed required to stay with the front group. When he won this race, the sprinters didn’t climb as well as they do now. Obviously, if he makes the sprint, he has a great chance.
Nacer Bouhanni – hasn’t had the start to the season that he would have hoped for. He was poor in the Algarve and quit Paris-Nice, not great preparation for a race of this distance.
Michael Matthews – the Aussie was 3rd here in 2015, but a crashed stopped him from challening in 2016. Now riding for Sunweb, it will be interesting to see how they support him in the closing kilometres, especially with Dumoulin, Geschke and Arndt at his disposal. Matthews only started his season in Paris-Nice, and he almost pulled off a huge surprise by winning the mountain TT. He clearly has good form and this race is great for him. He has a huge chance of success.
Sonny Colbrelli – took a very impressive win in Paris-Nice, after a tough day in the saddle. He can surprise some of the bigger names and challenge for the podium. Bahrain also have Bonifazio, but given Colbrelli’s performances in PN, he will be team leader.
Greg Van Avermaet – we know he’ll attack in the closing kilometres, but can he make it stick? The problem he faces is that he’s such a strong rider, someone will be tasked with the job of covering his move. They will then refuse to work and GVA has to stop. That makes it very difficult for him to take the title.
Tim Wellens – I really hope we see an attack from him on the Poggio. A rider in amazing current form, he needs to go long. If he’s lucky he might encourage a small group to split away from the bunch and not be seen again. It’s a long shot, but it’s his only chance.
Steve Cummings – the best rider at timing an attack in the closing kilometres. If anyone can get away from the sprinters, it’s big Stevo! He will hang at the back all day and then explode with 1km remaining. What a win that would be!
Alexey Lutsenko – another of the bold late attackers. Strong as a bull and shouldn’t be allowed any freedom!
I’m going to be brave! Two years ago I loved how he challenged in this race, and now he’s better. After a brilliant performance in Paris-Nice, I think it’s time for Michael Matthews to take a monument.
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