Milan-San Remo preview

Sunday’s Milan-San Remo is one of the oldest races on the calendar and the first of the five ‘monuments’ of European cycling to be raced each year. A marathon lasting close to seven hours, it provides a unique test of speed and endurance far beyond what its seemingly innocuous profile might suggest.

What kind of race is it?

At 298km, this is longest professional race of all – the sole exception to the UCI’s 250km race limit. It is also the one most coveted by sprinters. However, there are enough awkward climbs – Le Manie mid-race, Cipressa and Poggio late on – to give the strong-man Classics and GC riders an equally good chance. The final two climbs are generally tackled close to flat-out, taxing already tired legs.

Unsurprisingly, Italian riders have historically dominated the race, netting 50 wins – although you have to go back to 2006 for the last ‘home’ winner, Filippo PozzatoEddy Merckx was victorious here a record seven times. The most recent winners of the race are:

2008: Fabian Cancellara (CSC)

2009: Mark Cavendish (Columbia-Highroad)

2010: Oscar Freire (Rabobank)

2011: Matt Goss (HTC-Highroad)

2012: Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE)

What happened last year?

GreenEDGE’s Simon Gerrans made it two Australian winners in succession as he outsprinted Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) in a tense three-up finish. The trio broke clear approaching the summit of the Poggio after Nibali had initiated the decisive attack following great pace-work by Liquigas on both Poggio and the Cipressa. Cancellara found himself forced to pull the other two to the finish as a chase group breathed down their necks. Peter Sagan (Liquigas) took the honour of beating John Degenkolb (1t4i) to fourth spot, two seconds behind.

1. Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE) 6:59:24

2. Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) same time

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) s/t

4. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:02

5.  John Degenkolb (1t4i) s/t

6.  Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) s/t

7. Oscar Freire (Katusha) s/t

8. Alessandro Ballan (BMC) s/t

9. Daniel Oss (Liquigas-Cannondale) s/t

10. Daniele Bennati (RadioShack-Nissan) s/t

You can read our full 2012 race review here.

This year’s race

All 19 ProTeams plus six wild-cards (Androni Giocattoli, Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox, IAM, MTN-Qhubeka, Europcar and Vini Fantini) will line up with eight-man teams. The undulating parcours presents many opportunities for field-splitting attacks on the climbs and a distinct possibility of crashes on the descents.

Milan-San Remo 2013 profile

The first major selection is likely to occur on the race’s newest climb, Le Manie, which was introduced in 2008 and summits 94km from the finish. Last year a concerted effort by Liquigas and others on the 4.7km, 6.7% climb eliminated Mark Cavendish from contention, while in 2011 a 44-man group split decisively away after a crash on the descent.

The final 30km is where the race will be won and lost

The final 30km is where the race will be won and lost

However, it is often the Cipressa and Poggio which prove decisive because of their proximity to the finish. Neither looks particularly daunting, but because they are both taken at a high tempo it is common for splits to occur. The Cipressa, 22km from the finish, is the longer and steeper of the two, averaging 4.1% over 5.7km.

After the descent and a short flat section comes the Poggio. Again, this is not individually a difficult climb – it is ‘only’ 3.7% – but with its summit just 6km from the line any split can prove decisive. A small group can escape on either side of the peak, but if a large enough peloton survives the competition among the sprinters’ teams will be intense.

Who to watch

The outcome of Milan-San Remo is notoriously difficult to predict, although the recent Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice both provide helpful pointers.

Will clear favourite be victorious? (image courtesy of Cannondale)

Will clear favourite Sagan be victorious? (image courtesy of Cannondale)

Teams with multiple contenders who can cover the full range of tactical outcomes are best positioned. In Peter Sagan, fourth last year and a double stage winner at Tirreno, Cannondale possess the overwhelming race favourite, with Strade Bianche winner Moreno Moser and sprinter Elia Viviani representing viable alternatives if the Slovak is marked out.

Omega Pharma-Quick Step also possess an embarrassment of riches. 2009 winner Mark Cavendish will be hoping to make up for last year’s disappointment. But OPQS can also look towards the in-form Sylvain Chavanel and the returning-to-form Tom Boonen to provide a strenuous one-two punch, with Michal Kwiatkowski (second at Volta ao Algarve, fourth at Tirreno) and Niki Terpstra offering both support and attacking options.

Can Goss repeat his 2011 win? (image courtesy of Orica-GreenEDGE)

Can Goss repeat his 2011 win? (image courtesy of Orica-GreenEDGE)

Orica-GreenEDGE can boast the last two winners of the race in Simon Gerrans and Matt Goss. Gerrans pulled out of Paris-Nice ill and is more likely to ride in support of his compatriot, who won his first stage in ten months at Tirreno last week.

As he did last year, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) arrives as the winner of Tirreno. Third last year after he was unable to shake off Gerrans and Fabian Cancellara, he will look to exploit his descending skills.

Other key contenders include last year’s second and fifth-placed riders, 2008 winner Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) and John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), although the latter is carrying a minor thigh injury. As outside bets, it’s also worth considering 2006 winner Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida), second at Roma Maxima two weeks ago, 2009 runner-up Heinrich Haussler (IAM), the in-form Greg van Avermaet (BMC), Andrey Amador (Movistar), Tour Down Under winner Tom-Jelte Slagter (Blanco), Daniele Bennati (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky).

Alternatively, one of the Lotto-Belisol pairing of Jurgen Roelandts and sprinter Andre Greipel could profit if the big favourites spend too much time watching each other. And don’t forget the man who will be sporting the rainbow jersey, Philippe Gilbert (BMC), who will be chomping at the bit on the Poggio.

The fact that I have covered so many possible winners – and it could easily be someone else beyond this list – is an indication of how wide open Milan-San Remo always is. It will be fast – the forecast is for a tailwind which will encourage attackers – it will be furious and it will be unpredictable.

Milan-San Remo takes place starts on Sunday 17th March. Live coverage will be shown in the UK by Eurosport. For other options check

Link: Official website

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