Not only is Alexander Kristoff a former winner of Milan-San Remo, he’s also had a phenomenal start to the season to set himself up for the first Monument of the year.
Five wins so far and a host of top-five finishes show the Norwegian is in ominous form and has a very good chance of getting on his third podium in three years.
Unlike some of the other sprinters in the field, Kristoff has the ability to be in the mix whether the race comes down to a bunch kick or a long-range effort from the ascent of the Poggio.
He appears in pretty much every edition of this ‘riders to watch’ series, but that’s because we can never take our eyes off Peter Sagan.
He’s finished fourth twice and second once in San Remo, showing he’s got what it takes to win it some day, and what a way it would be to get your first victory of the season at Milan-San Remo.
Past performances at Milan-San Remo almost exactly mirror his performances at that year’s Tour of Flanders – second in both in 2013, fourth in both in 2015 – so if he wins on Saturday, get your money on him for Flanders.
It’s odd to think that the Swiss has only won once in La Primavera, given how often he features at the end of races, but a second win eight years after his first would be a great way to bow out.
Even at the age of 34 – he’ll be 35 by Saturday, though – Cancellara is still a marked man in the one-day races, but that’s with good reason, as he showed at Strade Bianche a couple of weeks back.
Mark Cavendish has won Milan-San Remo more recently than Fabian Cancellara but has not been able to replicate his 2009 feat in recent years.
If the race is still together over the top of the Poggio then it would be hard to bet against Cavendish winning it, but having come off a tough Tirreno-Adriatico and having raced on the track at the World Championships it’s not really clear what shape Cav is in.
Of the Dimension Data team, Edvald Boasson Hagen could be the one to get the nod in the finale, especially if the race breaks up in the final climbs.
Greg Van Avermaet
Greg Van Avermaet has never won a Monument, but he comes into Milan-San Remo in great form and could spring a surprise on Saturday.
The best he’s done in San Remo is ninth back in 2011, but with the form he’s currently in it would be silly to dismiss his chances completely.
Cancellara believes that Fernando Gaviria is a bit young to win Milan-San Remo, but the Etixx-Quick Step sprinter is constantly proving his doubters wrong.
There’s no doubting the Colombian’s top-end speed, so if the race pans out how the sprinters plan then Gaviria could beat everyone on the line.
It’s the distance that the young riders have to worry about, though. Gaviria has also competed hard on the track and at Tirreno in recent weeks, so a 291km race could be a step too far.
Michael Matthews finished third in this race last year, behind John Degenkolb and Kristoff, so has the ability and knowledge of the course to do better this time.
He’ll be fresher than many of his rivals, but at the same time won’t have as many solid race kilometres in his legs from the early season.
He’s in the Kristoff mould, though, so could cross the line first if he gets in a good position on the descent of the Poggio.
Most of the time, Vincenzo Nibali hasn’t really challenged at Milan-San Remo, but the one time he got on the podium – in 2012 – he showed that if the circumstances arise, he can challenge the best Classics riders.
The main strength that Nibali brings to the table is his phenomenal descending skill, which put him in a great position to win in 2012. He led a group consisting of himself, Cancellara and eventual winner Simon Gerrans down the Poggio before being pipped on the line.
That descent could be crucial in this year’s race, and as long as the sprinters are taken care of before the Poggio we could see the 2014 Tour de France champion in the top 10 at least.