Hazardous natural obstacles, a stellar field containing several potential winners, every chance of a major upset and plenty of opportunities for a high-odds winner: no, it’s not the Gold Cup, it’s Milan-San Remo.
Having finished a close second to John Degenkolb in last year’s edition of Milan-San Remo, 2014 winner Alexander Kristoff is the bookies’ favourite to reclaim his title on Saturday at a best price of 9/2 with Betfred.
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The Norwegian sprinter has finished in the top ten in the last three editions of the fabled one-day race and will be confident of a second victory, with Degenkolb absent as he recovers from injuries sustained in a training crash.
Having won a record third Strade Bianche title and riding his last-ever Milan San-Remo, 2008 winner Cancellara is fantastic value at 12/1 with Bet Victor, especially considering he has contested the sprint every year since 2010, his results in that time reading (in reverse chronological order): 7th, 2nd, 3rd, 2nd, 17th.
This year’s edition clocks in at a punishing 291km and there are question marks over whether rainbow jersey Sagan has the staying power to win a race over such a long distance.
He will, however, be fired up by his recent near-misses, which saw him finish in the top ten on all six stages of Tirreno-Adriatico following fourth at Strade Bianche, seventh at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Sagan has been remarkably consistent this season, despite not picking up a win, and odds of 6/1 at William Hill and Paddy Power are certainly worth looking at.
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Two riders taking good form into Saturday’s race are Michael Matthews, who won the prologue and stage two en route to the points jersey at Paris-Nice, and Greg van Avermaet, who last week added the overall win at Tirreno-Adriatico to his equally impressive Omloop Het Nieuwsblad victory at the end of February.
Matthews finished third over the 293km course last year to prove he has the legs to hang with the best of them over tough terrain and is 8/1 with Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and Bet Victor to become the third Australian to win Milan-San Remo.
Van Avermaet – at a whopping 18/1 with Paddy Power – is also surely worth at least an each-way bet on his current form.
Looking further afield, Alejandro Valverde is very tempting at 66/1 with Betfair, while Niccolo Bonifazio – fifth in this race last year and sixth at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in February – might be worth a punt at 80/1 with William Hill.
Paris-Nice winner Geraint Thomas is also tempting at 100/1 with Betfred, Paddy Power and Ladbrokes, although this race may come too soon after his efforts in France last week for Thomas to feature much beyond helping teammate Swift.
Ian Stannard – 200/1 with Bet365 and Paddy Power – also looks worth a punt, while Steve Cummings, riding high off the back of a solo win at Tirreno-Adriatico, catches the eye at 400/1 with Bet365 and William Hill.