The first monument classic of the year is here. The 110th Milan-San Remo is the longest at 291km and is the least predictable of all of them. This is the race where climbers and sprinters get to the final few kilometres and it can be near impossible to know which has the upper hand; and for that reason it’s one of the best races of the calendar.
Robert Stannard, New Zealand’s favourite Aussie, will line up for La Classicissimo, with a Mitchelton-SCOTT team that boasts one of the pre-race favourites in Matteo Trentin. Stannard has already raced at one-day races Strade Bianche and the GP Industria & Artigianato in Italy this year along with Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne in Belgium.
Trying to nail down a favourite for Milan-San Remo is phenomenally difficult. The race traditionally builds to a crescendo on the climbs of the Cipressa and the Poggio where the climbers are forced to unleash or the sprinters are forced to go into a darkish place to remain in contention. We’ve narrowed down our list of favourites to watch to a few who might be slightly left-of-field options below:
Sam Bennett – BORA-Hansgrohe
Any team that fields the three-time world champion in Peter Sagan is usually bound to favour the Slovakian as leader, but almost every team has two options and BORA-Hansgrohe have a dynamite option in Sam Bennett who comes to Milan-San Remo in better form than his illustrious teammate. Bennett has four wins to his name – including two in last week’s Paris-Nice – to Sagan’s one. The politics at BORA-Hansgrohe are a little interesting with it being made clear to Bennett before the turn of the year that a start at the Giro d’Italia was not going to be his this year. The somewhat controversial decision may be the fuel Bennett needs to produce a blinder in San Remo; he just needs to hang on over the Poggio and the floor is his.
Julian Alaphilippe – Deceuninck-Quick Step
It might seem unusual that we’re treating Alaphilippe as a left-of-field option for victory, but given Deceuninck-Quick Step’s loaded squad for just about any one-day classic bare with us. On face value it’s a coin toss to decide who the team are most likely to throw their eggs in the basket of between Alaphilippe and Elia Viviani; and we’re siding with Viviani for now despite Alaphilippe’s third place in San Remo back in 2017. The pair are in blistering form, having taken 10 of the team’s 18 victories this season so far, and they’ve shown their ability to work together effectively too; something which Bennett and Sagan haven’t done yet. Alaphilippe is a class act, and he’s one of the most diversely talented riders in the world, able to climb better than Sagan and sprint better than almost any of the climbers up to and possibly including Valverde.
Niki Terpstra – Direct Energie
He’s been the nearly man in one-day-ers so far with two third place finishes in Belgium and with two monument classic wins to his name he’s one of the most prodigiously talented riders to be lining up for Milan-San Remo without a massively strong team backing him up. However, one gets the sense that on his day he can effectively fly solo. Terpstra has never placed higher than 38th at Milan-San Remo back in 2011, and hasn’t raced there since 2013; however his spring classics form of years gone by is hard to look beyond. Last year he took three wins including E3 Harelbeke and the Tour of Flanders before finishing third in Roubaix. Could his return to Milan tomorrow be the tick in the box for the first win he’s been looking for?
Caleb Ewan – Lotto Soudal
Still finding his way with Lotto Soudal is the impression we’ve been getting so far from Caleb Ewan. He’s undeniably gifted, ridiculously quick and capable of beating anyone on his day. He’s not had a bad year by any stretch of the imagination, there are plenty of sprinters who have had worse. 1 win, 4 second place finishes and 2 thirds is a decent palmares for this point in the year. But if Ewan is to succeed then the days when the likes of our Greg Henderson would anchor one of the world’s best lead out trains may need to be called on again. Has Ewan got the well oiled machine that Lotto Soudal have been in the past?
Also look out for:
Vincenzo Nibali & Sonny Colbrelli of Bahrain Merida. Likelier to side with Nibali as defending champion, and with Colbrelli not on great form; but a strong potential dual opportunity.
Nacer Bouhanni of Cofidis, Solutions Credits. Never discount Bouhanni. Strong, arrogant, punchy (sometimes literally) but when all the stars align . . . .
Greg van Avermaet of CCC Team. Is this race just slightly out of his comfort zone? He’s great on cobbles, and on the nuggety courses but has managed a 5th place here in 2016 and 9th in 2011.
Simon Clarke of EF Education First. The Aussie has had a very good year thus far, with Strade Bianche one of our particular stand outs as far as performances are concerned. He’ll need to hit them hard on the Cipressa and/or the Poggio to win, but climbers do succeed from time to time.