Former champion Fabian Cancellara will count on his full array of cycling firepower when he bids to stop the fancied sprinters battling for victory when a rejigged Milan-SanRemo opens the one-day classiccycling season on Sunday.
At 293km long, the Italian race is fully deserving of it’s place among cycling‘s five ‘monuments’.
But a return to the finish line used during the race’s heyday, when Belgian legend Eddy Merckx claimed a record seven titles on the Via Roma between 1966 and 1976, is giving this year’s 106th edition some extra prestige.
While the change may or may not benefit the sprinters, there is no shortage of specialist fast men looking to join Merckx on the race’s illustrious roll off honour.
Norway’s defending champion Alexander Kristoff, Britain’s former winner Mark Cavendish and fellow spinters Andre Greipel, Gerald Ciolek, John Degenkolb and Michael Matthews will all be hoping to be in the mix at the end of a near seven-hour slog from Milan to the Ligurian seaside town.
The change also means the race is a kilometre shorter, meaning the peloton could have a reduced chance of closing down the attacks which are usually launched on the race’s final, strategic climb, the Poggio.
Considering influential factors such as weather conditions, wind direction and the spoiling tactics of several hungry, rival teams, winning the Milan-SanRemo becomes something of a lottery.
Cancellara, whose 2008 victory came after he outfoxed the sprinters with a solo attack following the descent of the Poggio, said: “You never know how Milan-San Remo will play out… it always produces more questions about the race than answers.”
But as a three-time runner-up who also finished third in 2013, the Trek team rider believes he has the tools to make the top step of the podium again.
“The race can be won by a puncheur or it can be for sprinters, but I think I’ve always had cards to play,” Cancellara said last week after claiming victory in the final stage time trial of Tirreno-Adriatico.
“I can go with the attackers, I can go on the descent and I can have a go in the sprint. The more I ride it the better my cards are.
“Milan-San Remo is one of the five monuments, so we will go there to do our thing and to try to win.”
Although Slovakian Peter Sagan saddles up buoyed by victory last week at Tirreno-Adriatico, his first win for new team Tinkoff-Saxo and, notably, his first in nine months, the 2013 runner-up remains respectful of the race.
He says the the first big challenge of the season, in mental and physical terms, is always hard to fathom.
“I’m heading to Milan-San Remo to deliver a top result just like at any other race,” Sagan said. “But Milano-San Remo is special and unpredictable due to many factors such as the length of the race and the tactical situations.
“All I can do is to try my best knowing that I’m backed by a strong and motivated team.”
Defending champion Kristoff is arguably the top sprint contender, having recently tasted victory on the opening stage of Paris-Nice, where German rival Andre Greipel took the honours on stage two.
Cavendish, in comparison, comes in slightly under the radar having seen his race preparations set back after he picked up a virus in South Africa although he will expect strong support from teammates Michal Kwiatkowski and Zdenek Stybar.
Cavendish can’t be ruled out, but even he admitted Milan-SanRemo is “the easiest race to finish, but the hardest to win”. And the Isle of Man rider was also impressed by Sagan’s show of strength last week.
“With how they rode, you have to look at Tinkoff Saxo and Peter Sagan. He’s in good form,” Cavendish said. “With the strength his team has, they are going to take control.” – Agence France-Presse