With a last-minute course change taking out the Pompeiana climb, the 2014 edition of Milan-San Remo has reverted to a traditional, more flat route – and one that should suit those with sprinting talent.
We pick out the riders that we think will animate, if not win, the race on Sunday (March 23).
Peter Sagan, Cannondale
Could this be the race where Peter Sagan finally lands a monument? The 24 year old has won a remarkable number of races in his short career, so much so that it is quite surprising that he hasn’t yet won a classic more prestigious than Ghent-Wevelgem. The Slovak has developed a habit for finishing second in the very biggest races, as he did in last year’s Milan-San Remo and Tour of Flanders. But the Italian classic suits his attributes best, and if his Cannondale team can drop the purer sprinters on the Cipressa and the Poggio, he’ll be difficult to beat.
Mark Cavendish, Omega Pharma-QuickStep
Cavendish’s resounding win in the penultimate stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico suggest that both he and his teammates possess the form to beat anyone in a bunch finish, and, with nemesis Marcel Kittel not riding, few will be able to challenge in a straight-up sprint. But winning Milan-San Remo is a lot more complicated than this, and Cavendish hasn’t had anything like the detailed preparation he underwent prior to his win here in 2009, and it remains to be seen whether he can keep in touch over the frantic final climbs.
Andre Greipel, Lotto-Belisol
Aside from Cavendish, Greipel is the fastest sprinter on the startlist. His past record at Milan-San Remo is far from exemplary, but manager Marc Sergant is convinced he is capable of winning a spring classic, and as ‘the sprinter’s classic’ Milan San-Remo is the race most suited to the big German. Like Cavendish he’ll struggle to get over the Cipressa and Poggio, and his rivals would be wise to make sure he’s out of contention come the final sprint.
John Degenkolb, Giant-Shimano
Giant-Shimano’s star rider Marcel Kittel may not be riding, but in truth John Degenkolb may present a better option. The 25 year old can sprint, last the distance, and hang in on the climbs, and last year won Paris-Tours and the Vattenfall Classics, two of the other most prestigious sprinters’ classics. He’s on good form too, having won stages at Paris-Nice and the Tour Méditerranéen, but La Primavera would be his biggest win to date.
Fabian Cancellara, Trek
No rider in recent years has a more consistent record at Milan-San Remo than Fabian Cancellara, who has finished on the podium in each of the past three editions. He commonly manages to both escape the peloton and keep them at bay, before being unceremoniously outsprinted by whichever rider managed to latch onto his wheel. He looks unlikely to win it this year, given the advantages afforded to the sprinters following the removal of La Manie and the Pompeiana, but he’s bound to attack on the Poggio.
Arnaud Demare, FDJ
22-year-old Demare is one of the rising stars of the peloton, though at such a young age, it remains to be seen whether he can cope with the extra demands of a classic as long as Milan-San Remo. Like Degenkolb and Sagan, he is good at both sprinting and climbing – as his top ten in this year’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad demonstrated – and he looks sure to be a winner of La Primavera one day.
Edvald Boasson Hagen, Sky
Sky’s early season suggests that they may finally be getting to grips with the classics. One such impressive result was Boasson Hagen’s third at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, which ranked as the Norwegian’s best classics result for quite a stretch. We’ve known of his talent a long time, but he tends to come up short in the biggest races.
Vincenzo Nibali, Astana
The initial route looked tailor made for Nibali’s talents and he would have been a favourite to win, but with so few climbs on the revised parcours he seems unlikely to win. No doubt we’ll see him attack on the Poggio as usual, but an organised chase from the many teams with fancied sprinters ought to see him reeled in.
Images from Milan-San Remo over the years. By Graham Watson
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