Milan-Sanremo is more than just one of the five Monuments of the season. Milan-Sanremo is Fausto Coppi – who attacks 200 kilometers from the finish abd takes a magnificent triumph, is Eddy Merckx – who celebrates his seventh win like it’s his first, is Sean Kelly – who puts on a daredevil descent to catch Moreno Argentin and break the hopes of the Italians on the Via Roma, and is Oscar Freire – who nips past Erik Zabel on the line and stoles what looked to be a sure victory for the German. Milan-Sanremo is tradition, history, and poetry.
This year, “La Primavera” will almost certain be the last chance of the sprinters to shine, as the organizers are keen on having the Pompeiana ascent on the 2016 route, which will favor the puncheurs and the climbers. To raise the stake, the race returns on the Via Roma eight years since the last time it finished there, and this will add a certain historical perfume to the race. Last, but not least, it’s worth mentioning that there isn’t any clear favorite, which means we should get once again an unpredictable race.
At 293 kilometers, Milan-Sanremo is the longest one-day race in the calendar, and the distance will sap the riders’ legs, especially as showers are expected during the morning and the afternoon, making it for the third year in a row that the weather will prove to be an important obstacle for the peloton. And as this and the 12 degrees weren’t enough, a 45km/h tailwind along the coast is forecast on Sunday, which translates into a headwind on the early part of the Poggio, making it very likely to see a bunch finish.
The cyclists will leave early in the morning from Milan’s via della Chiesa Rossa, knowing that the first 120 kilometers are perfectly flat, until they will hit Passo del Turchino, which was the main difficulty in the early years of “La Classicissima”. After that ascent, the road will again be flat for the next 100 kilometers, starting to rise once the riders will tackle Capo Mele, Capo Cerva and Capo Berta. These are sure to create problems and distance some riders, but don’t expect any proper attacks, as the really difficult part will begin only when Cipressa will loom on the horizon.
The 9 km long climb has an average gradient of 4,1%, but in some parts it hits 9%, so look for some of the strong teams to come at the front and push the pace, so that the sprinters will have a hard life trying to hang in. There’s no much rest after the Cipressa before the last obstacle of the day, the famous Poggio, which was introduced in 1960 in an attempt to stop the race from ending each year in a sprint finish. Poggio – 3,7 kilometers in length – starts 9,7 kilometers before the finish line and has four hairpin turns in the first 2 kilometers; the average gradient on the Poggio is less than 4%, but the maximum hits 8% in the segment before getting to the top of the climb.
The descent is extremely technical, on asphalt roads, narrow at points and with a succession of hairpins, twists and turns that can reward the riders who decide to go all in. The descent ends just two kilometers before the finish line on the Via Roma (which is in a slight uphill), so if a rider or a small group has a couple of seconds in hand by that point, the chance to succed will be pretty big. If this will not be the case, then the sprinters’ teams will line-up on the famous Via Roma and try to bring their leaders in the best position to take the victory.
Alexander Kristoff has to one of the prime picks for the victory in Milan-Sanremo, a race in which he wrote history last year, when he became the first Norwegian to take the win. In 2015, he already has five successes to his name and also possedes the attributes to repeat last season’s victory. If he gets at the finish, even without a teammate, then Kristoff will be very difficult to beat, thus having the chance to become the first cyclist in 14 years to score back-to-back victories in “La Classicissima”.
Peter Sagan has two options: to escape from the pack on the Poggio and the subsequent descent, or to wait for the sprint and try to win there. In the penultimate stage of Tirreno-Adriatico, the Slovak finished first and somehow managed to take off some of the pressure he had on his shoulder, but that moment doesn’t change much, because he still has a big challenge ahead of him, and that is to finally add a Monument to his palmares. A marked man on Sunday, Sagan has to find a way to get rid of his rivals, and also show he made some improvements to his tactics and positioning, two elements which didn’t help his cause in the past.
This year, Michael Matthews had a bit of freedom to have some input into his program, so he decided that he was better to miss the National Championships and the Tour Down Under in order to prepare for Milan-Sanremo, a race many are tipping him to win ever since he made his pro debut. So far, the former U23 world champion has had a more gradual build-up than in the previous season, that leaves him in perfect shape for “La Primavera”, in which he comes after nabbing a stage win in Paris-Nice, last week. By his own saying, Michael Matthews has raced the Poggio and its descent about 100 times, so he knows every meter of the last part, which, added up to his speed, makes him one of the big favorites for the race.
Five days before the first Monument of the year, Fabian Cancellara blasted his way to a time trial win in Tirreno-Adriatico and proved once again, if it was really necessary, that he’s in a fine form for Sunday. He didn’t do a recon of Milan-Sanremo, but he doesn’t need it, although the finish is different than when he won, back in 2008, when he attacked three kilometers out and soloed along the Ligurian seaside. Since that triumph, he came on the podium four times in a row, so now he’ll look to change this stat and finish on the top. Last season, Cancellara showed in Flanders that he has the ability to play with his rivals and sprint from a small group when he needs to, but expect him to attack on the Poggio and put on a fast descent in order to drop all his rivals.
Things were on track for Mark Cavendish – who nabbed six victories in 2015 – up until two weeks ago, when he went to South Africa for a race and got a stomach virus. Then he came at the start of Tirreno-Adriatico and had to ride through some dreadful weather, before deciding to quit during stage six. This leaves a question over the 2009 winner’s condition for Milan-Sanremo, who doesn’t look to be at 100% in a 300 km race where every little detail counts. If Cavendish – whose number one goal this Spring is “La Classicissima” – will not be at his best, then Zdenek Stybar can fill in and attack on the Poggio in the same manner he did it in Strade Bianche. Also Michal Kwiatkowski should be followed, as he’s in great shape and went on to recon the Sanremo course this week after his second place in Paris-Nice. The race suits him, with the finish being similar to the one in Ponferrada, where he won the world title six months ago.
Just like last year, Juan Jose Lobato stretched his legs in the Gran Premio Nobili, and his 4th place on Thursday in the Italian one-day race showed that Movistar’s sprinter – more mature and much stronger this season – is prepared to tackle Milan-Sanremo, a race which was won in the past by just two Spaniards: Miguel Poblet and Oscar Freire. Very intriguing, Movistar will line-up at the start also Alejandro Valverde (returning in the race after eight years), who provides some interesting options, as he can stay in the bunch until the Poggio and go on to the attack once the road rises.
BMC’s duo Gren Van Avermaet – Philippe Gilbert is a dangerous one, especially as both can climb easily and have an extra kick after 300 kilometers, in case the race will conclude with a sprint from a small group. From the two, Van Avermaet looks to be in a better shape, after coming from Tirreno-Adriatico with a stage win and two top 10 placings. Basically, the only concern of BMC will be to play its cards wisely in a race well-known for its fast and tricky finish.
Other outsiders that can go for a podium or a top 10 finish are Grega Bole (who had a strong display in the Gran Premio Nobili), John Degenkolb, André Greipel, Arnaud Démare, Nacer Bouhanni, Heinrich Haussler, Gerald Ciolek, Ben Swift, Giacomo Nizzolo, Ramunas Navardauskas, Tony Gallopin, Sam Bennett and Lampre-Merida’s Davide Cimolai and Niccolo Bonifazio, two cyclists who are tailor-made for such a race and who know every meter of the final ten kilometers.
– Eddy Merckx holds the record for the most wins, seven, between 1966 and 1976
– The team with the most victories in the race is Bianchi – 17
– Italy leads the nations standings, with 50 successes over the years
– Six-time winner of Milan-Sanremo, Costante Girardengo has the most podiums, 11
– Italian cyclists have taken the first three positions 34 times
– Youngest winner is Ugo Agostoni, 20 years and 252 days (1914); oldest one is Andrei Tchmil, 36 years and 57 days (1999)
– Wladimiro Panizza has the most starts in “La Primavera”, 18
– Four riders have won Milan-Sanremo while wearing the rainbow jersey: Alfredo Binda (1931), Eddy Merckx (1972, 1975), Felice Gimondi (1974) and Giuseppe Saronni (1983)
– The only winners from outside of Europe are Australia’s Matthew Goss and Simon Gerrans
– Sean Kelly is the last Grand Tour champion victorious in Milan-Sanremo (1992)
– Throughout history, the maximum distance of the race didn’t exceed 298 kilometers
– Highest average speed was recorded in 1990: 45,806 km/h
– 1954 is the year in which the race was shown live on television for the first time
– Biggest gap between first and second came in 1910, when Eugene Christophe got to the line 61 minutes ahead of Giovanni Cocchi
– Milan-Sanremo is the only Monument which wasn’t won three years in a row by a rider
– In 2015 there will be 33 nations at the start, with Italy providing the most riders, 47
– Romania is going to have its first ever cyclist in the race, Serghei Tvetcov
– Youngest rider in the race is Carlos Mario Ramirez (20-years-old); oldest one is Matteo Tosatto (40-years-old)
– Six former winners will line-up at the start: Fabian Cancellara, Mark Cavendish, Gerald Ciolek, Matthew Goss, Alexander Kristoff, Filippo Pozzato
– The peloton of Milan-Sanremo has won a combined total of 18 Monuments, 5 Grand Tours, 8 world titles (road race+individual time trial) and more than 150 Grand Tour stages