Deceuninck - Quick-Step’s game plan
Having won literally every classic so far this spring, there’s no doubt that Deceuninck - Quick-Step will be the team to beat at Milan-San Remo.
The question is, with so many potentially fruitful options how will the team approach the race?
On one hand, they could attempt to control the race and ensure it comes down to a bunch sprint for Elia Viviani, who has arguably been the peloton’s quickest sprinter so far this season, and would be a hugely popular local winner.
Julian Alaphilippe sprints to victory on stage six of the 2019 Tirreno-Adriatico (Sunada)
But they also have the wildcard of Julian Alaphilippe to play, one of a select few with the explosive acceleration and descending skills necessary to pull-off a successful attack from the Poggio, a la Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) last year. The Frenchman has already won a stage meant for Viviani at Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this week, and needs to be kept an eye on.
Then there’s Philippe Gilbert, who has made it his late-career goal to win all five Monuments, and needs Milan-San Remo (as well as Paris-Roubaix) to complete his collection. If he has the legs, he’ll also be eager to attack from far out, probably on the Poggio.
All three look like potential winners, and how Deceuninck - Quick-Step decide to utilise them may shape how the final of the race pans out.
Sam Bennett or Peter Sagan for Bora-Hansgrohe
Deceuninck - Quick-Step aren’t the only team with multiple options heading into Milan-San Remo. In Peter Sagan and Sam Bennett, Bora-Hansgrohe also boast two riders more than capable of reaching the Via Roma victorious.
Who should the team back? Bennett certainly has the form, having gotten the better of many of the world’s best sprinters to win two stages at Paris-Nice last week, and will take some beating if he’s still in the mix for a sprint finish.
Sam Bennett wins stage 12 of the 2018 Giro d’Italia (Sunada)
But Peter Sagan is Peter Sagan, and will surely always pull rank if he has the legs. The former World Champion hasn’t shown his best form yet this season, but that might actually play to his advantage - if attention is elsewhere, he might be less closely marked than usual.
It’s possible the two could work in tandem, with Sagan going out on the attack and Bennett waiting in the wings should everything come down to a sprint. Either way, Bora-Hansgrohe look in a very strong position.
New generation of stars wanting to win sprinter’s Monument
There’s every chance 2019 will crown a first-time Milan-San Remo winner, with two young sprinters in particular looking like prime candidates.
Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) has experienced a lot of bad luck in this race to date. In 2016, he crashed in the final kilometre just when it appeared as though he was in the perfect position to sprint for victory, while a broken hand prevented him from riding altogether last year.
Fernando Gaviria takes the first sprint stage of his team’s home race, the 2019 UAE Tour (Photo: Yuzuru SUNADA)
Having avoided any injuries this time around, and shown some good form to win three races so far this season, 2019 might just be his year.
His fellow 24-year old Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) has come even closer to winning Milan-San Remo, having won the sprint for second behind Vincenzo Nibali at last year’s edition, and could well follow in the footsteps of Matt Goss and Simon Gerrans to become the third Australian to win La Primavera this decade.
The on-form Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) is also set to make his debut as a late call-up, but has stated that he intends to treat the race as a learning experience, and will probably struggle to remain in contact over the hills.
The old guard
For all the potential of the aforementioned young sprinters, there is an established group of sprinter-come-classics specialists who always seem to find a way to be in the mix at the end of Milan-San Remo.
Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) may have had quiet starts to the season, with the younger sprinters generally getting the better of them so far but, as former winners of the race, have enough know-how that they should not be discounted from triumphing again.
Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) has an even better record at this race, having never finished outside the top six since winning in 2014. However, this year he has to share leadership duties with Gaviria, and it will be intriguing to see whether his experience or his team-mate’s form proves more important.
Michael Matthews (Sunweb) is another rider with sufficient sprinting legs, climbing ability and endurance to go well here, and was third in 2015 and seventh last year, but may lack form having missed crucial race days following a crash at Paris-Nice.
Every year, a flurry of late attacks from brave attackers with considerable reserves of strength attempt to disrupt the expected sprinters’ party by attacking on the Poggio,
Usually these attempts end in noble failure, but every so often one triumphs against the odds - in fact, each of the last two editions have been via attacks on the Poggio, thorough Vincenzo Nibali’s thrilling solo attack last year and Michał Kwiatkowski’s fractional win from a three-man escape in 2017.
Vincenzo Nibali attacks in the final kilometres of Milan-San Remo (Picture: Sunada)
Kwiatkowski is not listed on the start list for this year’s edition, but there remain plenty of other names to look out for to attack. As well as the Deceuninck - Quick-Step pair of Alaphilippe and Gilbert, and Bora-Hansgrohe’s Sagan, Greg van Avermaet (CCC Team) looks like one of the riders best equipped to win this way, having looked in good form so far this spring.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has never had much success at this race, and rarely makes an appearance these days. But the world champion has opted to ride this year and could, if approaching his top form, stay clear if he reaches the top of the Poggio with a gap.
Don’t discount the likes of Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Niki Terpstra (Direct Energie) and Gianni Moscon (Team Sky) either. And, who knows, perhaps lightning could strike twice and Vincenzo Nibali succeed again, to become the first rider since Erik Zabel in 2001 to win successive Milan-San Remos?
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