Milan-San Remo is one of most delicately balanced races on the calendar, and there is arguably no other Classic that has such a long list of potential victors. Ostensibly, the largely flat route and fast finale heavily favours the sprinters, but with after seven hours of racing, the famous capi on the approach to San Remo swell from mere ripples to severe obstacles that can be the graveyard of so many sprinters’ ambitions and the Classics stars will have their say too during the 298km race.
Traditionally, sprinters’ names dominate the list of favourites at Milan-San Remo, but this year, no one fast man has stood out above all others. Garmin-Cervélo have a strong triumvirate of potential leaders in Thor Hushovd, Tyler Farrar and Heinrich Haussler, but they will need to have their roles clearly defined in a hectic finale.
Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) has tasted glory here before, but after a truncated start to his season, the 298 kilometres may just sap his speed in the finale. Oscar Freire (Rabobank) is bidding for a fourth win, and given his penchant for ripping up the form book seemingly at will, expect him to be a marked man at the finish.
Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) is another man with the capacity to rise to the big occasion. Although he has looked in difficulty at various points this Spring, the 2009 winner has a phenomenal record on the sport’s grandest stages. Other fast finishers chasing glory include Tom Boonen (Quick Step), André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Juan José Haedo (Saxo Bank-SunGard), Daniele Bennati (Leopard Trek), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) and Allan Davis (Astana).
Before the finish on the Lungomare Italo Calvino, however, a number of strong men will be looking to have their say. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) has been in ominous form at Tirreno-Adriatico, while Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) and Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) have both shown they know how to derail the sprinters’ dreams here. Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini-Neri), Danilo Di Luca (Katusha) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) are also likely to be prominent on the Poggio, as Italy chases a first win La Primavera since Pozzato triumphed in 2006.
Milan-San remo race route: milan-san remo race routeRCS Sport
Every year, the final plunge to San Remo sees a thrilling pursuit match between the opportunists and the sprinters’ teams, and while that ending can vary year on year, the opening stages follow a set script. Soon after the race leaves Milan, an early break will take its chances in the chilly air on the flat Lombard plain, while the peloton rolls steadily behind.
The pace will only begin to rise once the bunch passes through Campo Ligure and tackles the Passo Turchino around the midway point. While exploits like that of Fausto Coppi in 1946 and Claudio Chiappucci in 1991 are now a distant memory, the climb will nonetheless begin to shuffle the pack. After the Turchino, the riders snake along the Ligurian coast, and after the stiff challenge of Le Manie (204km), the pace will ratchet up accordingly.
It is in the final 50km where the race explodes into life, however, as the capi make their presence felt. Hostilities begin on the Capo Mele, and the Capo Cervo and Capo Berta follow in quick succession. They may only be undulations in the grand scheme of things, but with little time to recover and the pace rising ever higher, more and more riders and deposited out the back.
With 22km to go, the Cipressa will see the favourites begin to make their moves as they scramble for positions at the front ahead of the hallowed Poggio. Coming just 6km from the line, traditionally the first man to the top had every chance of tasting glory in San Remo, but with the sprinters and their teams growing ever stronger, the odds are increasingly stacked against him staying clear. After a breakneck plunge into the town below, there will be a grandstand finish on the promenade named in honour of San Remo’s most famous son, writer Italo Calvino.