This is one chromosome removed from an open thread, but someone has to get the conversation started. Looks like we have a complete startlist to work from. In order:
1. Oscar Freire
The obvious pick, sorry to say, but he was last year and he delivered. In fact, my accurate prediction of Freire entitled me to more than a month of constant crowing, at least until Basso was kicked out and my VDS team disintegrated. Anyway, the beauty of MSR is the sheer number of ways for the favorites to lose, but Freire can sprint with the best and make it to the line in one piece. Plus he's been ramping up his form just in time.
2. Fabian Cancellara
The hot hand. It's easy to pick sprinters for the top five spots at least, but just to shake things up, I'll submit Tony Spartacus as a guy who looks like he's ready to win every day. MSR isn't his strong suit, but there's nothing preventing him either.
3. Gert Steegmans
Looked fabulous in Paris-Nice. Unfortunately, the forecast for San Remo doesn't say anything about torrential rain, so he won't have any special advantages. But he's another hot hand, and a powerful finisher.
4. Alessandro Petacchi
Petacchi may be laying low and storing his magic powers for Saturday. But he missed out on yesterday's sprint and hasn't looked especially unbeatable. Everything needs to break right for Ale-Jet to win, and so far all that's happened is a landslide forced the race to add another large climb. Not good news in the Milram camp.
5. Danilo Napolitano
This is more a sentimental pick, but since Liquigas isn't sending Bennati or Chicchi, I needed another Italian sprinter in here. In fact, this is the story of Napo's career: filling the need for another Italian sprinter when the show pony isn't available. On his good days he's McEwen with thicker eyebrows. Second place yesterday suggests he's not exactly out of shape.
6. Philippe Gilbert
The Classics stud. He's been immense since the curtain went up, with the exception of last week. Ah well... it's still a good course for him and one of his beloved targets, IIRC. Best bet for a late-escape win.
7. Filippo Pozzato
Second-best bet for a late-escape win. The only downside for Pippo is he's done it before, and will be marked to a standstill. OTOH, he and Freire are the two naturals for this race, combining sprinting and classics ability, albeit in different proportions.
8. Thor Hushovd
Probably the best bet for a finish somewhere in the top ten, after maybe Freire. Big Thor maxed out at third place two years ago, but he's got a terrific classics makeup for a big sprinter, and a potential winner by attrition.
9. Robbie McEwen
It's never his race, but then McEwen is at his best when you often don't expect it.
10. Tom Boonen
If I had to guess, I'd say Tommeke is a decoy. If anything, Bettini needs the win more and might be plan B, if he manages to conjure up some form. Boonen would love to win here someday, but I suspect (w/o knowing) that he's more focused on Flanders after last year's lighter haul. He heated up the engine in January and could be forgiven for wanting to idle a bit right now.
And my brave pick... the field! As in, none of the above. My unfounded hunch is that we're in for a surprise winner this year. And the one I keep coming back to is Danilo DiLuca. That should get the commentary going. So... who ya got?