The 107th edition of Milano-Sanremo gets underway Saturday. 291 kilometers of racing through north-western Italy, the event is a classic in every sense of the word, but unique among the classics in its appeal to sprinters and hardmen alike.
This year’s Milano-Sanremo route sticks to the recent formula: the first 235km feature only one climb, the Passo del Turchino, and then comes a succession of small ascents sure to launch attacks. The two key climbs are the Cipressa, 5.6km with a 4.1% gradient (summitted just over 21km from the finish) and the subsequent Poggio, a little under 4km at a little under 4% (summitted a little over 5km from the finish).
The race concludes on the iconic Via Roma, with a long finishing straight that usually treats fans to a high-speed showdown.
The Poggio and Cipressa spring attacks every year, but neither climb is hard enough to really favor the escapees. It’s certainly a possibility that someone aggressive can jump clear here, but the bunch kick specialists seem more likely to thrive—in particular, those bunch kick specialists with the endurance to ride for six hours while keeping a sprint in the tank.
2015 winner John Degenkolb fits that bill, but injury has forced him to miss out on the race; he won’t be defending his crown Saturday, leaving the title open for the taking.
2014 winner Alexander Kristoff will be in attendance. He narrowly missed out on the win last year when he opened his sprint far too early, but still managed to come in second. A proven performer at this distance who has looked sharped so far in 2016, Kristoff will have the eyes of the whole peloton on him when the riders roll into Sanremo.
Peter Sagan has come close here in years past and seems like a lock to do so again this year, but he might not have the top-end speed to compete on this parcours. Plus, the distance may get to him—he still has yet to take a victory in a Monument Classic. For Sagan, it will be important to drop or get clear of the likes of Alexander Kristoff.
Michael Matthews of Orica-GreenEdge found himself on the podium in 2015 and should have only gotten better since then. The 26-year-old has yet to take that big one-day win and he is probably just a tad behind Kristoff in the speed department, but he has looked very strong so far in 2016. Former winner Simon Gerrans should be a strong ally.
That trio looks to be a cut above the rest if this come downs to a sprint, but there are quite a few others who could be in the mix.
Fernando Gaviria is a hot name right now given his strong results so far this year and his great top-end speed, but it’s really, really hard to win Sanremo without having ever raced a big classic. If he’s not up for this, Etixx does have Tom Boonen on the squad. Nacer Bouhanni is another sprinter who can never been ignored, though this is a very difficult race that might be too much for the Frenchman who has never been a huge classics star.
Ben Swift, Elia Viviani, Arnaud Demare, Niccolo Bonifazio, and Giacomo Nizzolo are others who should be to hold their own in a sprint.
Fabian Cancellara will be among those hoping to deny the sprinters their shot at the win. He has won Milano-Sanremo in the past and proved his form in the Tirreno-Adriatico time trial. It won’t be easy for him to escape the bunch, but he’ll probably try.
Greg Van Avermaet is another rider who will probably need to break free from the peloton to make something happen here, but if his early season results are any indication, he has all the form in the world right now. He’s also got a lot of speed for a reduced sprint.
Edvald Boasson Hagen is yet another versatile guy who has looked strong this season, and he brings the complete package with his ability to both solo and sprint. Dimension Data teammate Mark Cavendish, a former winner here, has said that Boasson Hagen will be the one to watch.
Vincenzo Nibali will almost certainly make some kind of late attack in this race. His defending skills will give him an edge if he can escape the peloton on the Cipressa or the Poggio.
Tony Gallopin, Tim Wellens, Geraint Thomas, Zdenek Stybar, and Sep Vanmarcke are others who could try to take advantage of the late climbs to make something happen.
VeloHuman Top 10 Race Favorites
Winner: Alexander Kristoff
Podium: Peter Sagan, Michael Matthews
Other Top Contenders: Fabian Cancellara, Greg Van Avermaet, Vincenzo Nibali, Fernando Gaviria, Nacer Bouhanni, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Mark Cavendish