This is a bit of an info-dump: below is a review of every team, to the extent we know their lineup, and what their pathway to victory at MSR might look like. As lineups change, so do the pathways, and I get a little weak on some of the Conti teams. So feel free to supplement.
The take-home message is that La Primavera is particularly unpredictable for a major classic -- a subject Gavia will get into shortly -- but at the outset we can at least give some thought to the range of strategies available to each team. The general breakdown is between sprinters and classic/attacker types, as the race gives good opportunities to both. How heavy a team is on one side or the other will factor into how much time they'll spend on the front of the race reeling things in for a sprint. But when the deal goes down, the best teams will have more than one card to play. Starting with the defending champs, then in no particular order...
Lineup: Freire, Boom, Langeveld, Matthews, Flens, Tjallingi, Wynants
Skills: Sprinting, attacking, hegemonizing
The Call: Rabo have been on fire all spring, so naturally the confidence is high. But if there is one place where I haven't seen much action from them, it's late-stage attacking from the klassikers. Boom has been solid, Langeveld had one legendary result, but the bulk of their wins have come from Gesink, Bos and of course Freire. So my guess is, it's all about Oscar. You may see some oranje messing around on the Cipresso, but given all the fliers we should see in the last hour Rabo might have a hard time gaining any edge until the Via Roma.
But there they have the best weapon of all. Think about it, with all the given scenarios, if you were making odds, you wouldn't give anyone more than a 10% chance of winning this race, right? For my money, the guy with a solid 10% chance is Freire. Track record says it already (three wins), but the guy can get up and down the hills, knows where to position himself, and doesn't need any help finishing it off. There are faster sprinters but who do you feel more certain will be there in the end? Rabo will likely set a high pace to ensure a sprint, but then as long as Freire can move himself up they may not need to chase as much as other teams.
All 237 teams... on the flip!
Lineup: Cavendish, Goss, Eisel, Peter Velits, Albasini, Grabsch, Renshaw, Bak
Skills: Sprinting, climbing, attacking, winning
The Call: The Full Sandbag is in effect, with team officials speculating about either Cavendish or Goss. The latter has one DNF to his name at MSR, so there's an open question about whether he can bring it at the end of 300km, but one DNF says a lot less than a string of them, so I'll expect HTC's prediction of multiple sprint options to remain true for at least 250km. Eisel is another guy who would be very dangerous in a small group, and Velits has the skills to get up the Poggio, and sprint it out against a climby selection. But surely HTC will be drilling it on the front for a sprint, at least if Cavendish really is sandbagging his form. If they aren't, then at last we might know something about where the Manx Missile is at.
Lineup: Farrar, Hushovd, Haussler, Hammond, Navardauskas, Klier, VanSummeren, Wilson
Skills: Sprinting, sprinting, attacking and sprinting.
No full lineup here yet but we know the three protected guys are their sprinting aces. Hushovd's chances probably are restricted to something more aggressive than a bunch sprint, though he has two podium finishes, including one in 2009. But Haussler is faster than Hushovd. Now, we know about Haussler's devastating attack in 2009, which eliminated all but one rider, but does Haussler prefer a bunch sprint? I would guess he does, particularly if Cavendish is not around. If Cav is around, and Farrar is feeling good and parked on his wheel, then both Hushovd and Haussler could try something a bit early with the knowledge that Farrar can cover Cav. That may be JV's dream scenario.
Farrar is the real wildcard. He's maybe a touch faster than Haussler in a typical sprint (debatable), but apart from missing the front last year he has no real history here. My dream scenario is Haussler and Thor minding the peloton while Farrar tries something coming off the Poggio. I have no idea what he is capable of besides winding it up in a sprint, but it would be fun to find out, and the chaos that would cause -- well, there will be plenty of chaos anyway, but Haussler would be licking his chops if the other sprinters ran off after Farrar in a panic. Anyway, whichever card they play, I hope they do so aggressively.
Lineup: Gilbert, Greipel, Hansen, Lang, Reynes, Roelandts, Sieberg, Veikkanen
Skills: Is "being Phillippe Gilbert" a skill?
The Call: If the Gorilla is anywhere near the finish Saturday, I will bow down to his image and rewrite the sprinters' power poll within 24 hours. Too bad, I suppose, but this team was going to be all about Gilbert anyway, I think. Gilbert is my pick to win, given the fact that even his sprints are comparable to the best, and his incredible strength (on display this week) tells me that at 300km he might squeak past a few guys who would normally outkick him in a bunch finish.
More than that, though, it's the late profile of the race that screams "Gilbert!" to me. Remember Geelong? How easily he ditched the field on the final ascents and only failed to win handily because there were three windy km from the end of the last climb to the finish? I'm not expecting a repeat performance -- the Cipressa is a bit far off and he'll be watched like a hawk on the Poggio. But I do expect him to attack, get a small group to the line, and eat their panini for the win. Maybe there are a million other scenarios in play but this one feels right. It's a monument, the right kind of monument, and Gilbert is monumental.
Lineup: Oss, Nibali, Sagan, Koren, Finetto, Dall'Antonia, Capecchi, Caruso, Agnoli, Finetto
Skills: Sprinting, attacking
The Call: I'm running full speed away from my Sagan prediction, after he weakened in Paris-Nice (ill?). Oss, the backup sprinter, hasn't much chance in this group. So that leaves Nibali and his wonderful climbing/descending package to try something on the Poggio. Like Gilbert, you hope for a monument to be won by a great rider doing great things, as a Nibali escape would be. Unlike Gilbert, Nibali can't afford to bring anyone to the line with him if he expects to win. Not even Andreas Kloden.
Lineup: Completely unknown; Petacchi, Cunego, Bole, Scarponi, ??
Skills: Sprinting, attacking
The Call: If he's there, Damiano Cunego could be interesting to watch. He usually goes to the Pais Vasco instead, but he did MSR last year, and is focusing on the classics more. Cunego is a poor man's Gilbert at this stage, and I hope you understand that's a compliment. Like a Nibali attack, seeing il Piccolo Principe on the fly in the Classicissima would be very cool, and he's still reasonably quick to the line, I'd expect. Unlike Gilbert or Nibali, he might not have so many eyes on him as they approach the Poggio.
The rest of the team will be patrolling the front and desperately trying to keep things together for Alessandro Petacchi. Ale-Jet has been on every step of the podium, was third last year, and has never finished lower than eighth (since 2003). He will need a teammate, ideally, or two, but he's a very plausible threat. As much as any team with another alternative, Lampre will be in sprint set-up mode.
Lineup: Boonen, Bandiera, Chavanel, Reda, Malacarne, Van Impe, Pineau, Terpstra
Skills: Sprinting, sabotage, intrigue
The Call: Obviously Boonen is the man, and got closer than ever last year. He's shrugged off his illness so you can expect to see him in good form at the end. He won't need any help either. That leaves the rest of the team open to ride without pressure for the last time this spring. Chavanel and Terpstra are both the types to take long-range chances, in part because neither is likely to win on a short-range attack, particularly given the people who you'll see lighting up the Poggio. If I'm Lefevre, the bottom of the Cipressa is go time, if not earlier.
Lineup: Arvesen, Barry, Boasson Hagen, Lofkvist, Flecha, Rogers, Stannard, Wiggins
Skills: Attacking, sprinting, herring
The Call: This isn't a strong MSR team, by which I mean that however strong these guys are, the pathway to victory isn't great. I suspect that Sky will rely on Boasson Hagen in a sprint, which isn't out of the question if you believe that they pulled him from Tirreno for purely precautionary reasons having to do with a different achilles. But he has no history here, and as long as I keep putting him on my VDS team, he will keep getting hurt. Flecha could try from distance, there would be nothing stopping him, and in fact it may be their best bet. He's never done much here before, for what that's worth. Lofkvist might get up the Poggio in good shape, but unless he's on his best form ever, he'll have company.
Lineup: Bennati, Cancellara, Gerdemann, Lund, O'Grady, Wagner, Wegmann, Weylandt
Skills: Attacking, blending in, check-cashing
The Call: Three months later and I'm still totally unexcited about this team. Bennati won't outsprint whoever else is there, barring a small-group escape. Gerdemann won't escape Gilbert, Nibali, etc. Cancellara will be watched like a hawk (Boonen can practice his shadowing skills). Other than a long escape, my expectations are minimal.
Lineup: JJ Haedo, Lucas Haedo, Larsson, Morkov, Nuyens, Tosatto, Cooke
Skills: Sprinting, reminiscing
The Call: I swear, when they showed Morkov in the time trial Tuesday I thought for a second it was Cancellara. I suppose that's a compliment to Morkov (of the planet Orkov). JJ Haedo looked very zippy in Tirreno, but he's only gotten one rider at MSR before, in 2007. Actually, it'd be a really nice story if he won.
Lineup: Ballan, Hincapie, Burghardt, Van Avermaet, Quinziato, Kroon, Schar, Wyss
The Call: No Cadel; BMC are going into full classics mode. Too bad, because I can think of many crazier (and less appealing) outcomes than an Evans win in this great race. They're tipping Van Avermaet, but while they have confidence in him, at least in a smaller finale, I'm much more intrigued by the way Alessandro Ballan is riding (and TBH not that intrigued by GVA until he proves me wrong). Ballan was eighth in the wild 2006 finish, Pippo's win, and since then the race hasn't unfolded for him. But the classics are all about strong riding -- if you're strong, there's a way to make it happen. Ballan is looking like the Ballan of old, and maybe with a small chip on his shoulder after too many interruptions since his world title. His best bet is a post-Poggio launch, which won't be easy, but we'll see.
Lineup: McEwen, Cardoso, Hunter, Rosseler, Lequatre, Muravyev, Popovych, Rast
Skills: Element of surprise?
The Call: What, no Klodi? This is a sprinters' race! Come on! McEwen was fourth here in 2007, but it was never his race.
Lineup: Bozic, Feillu, De Gendt, Leukemans, Marcato, Mouris, Ognarato, Selvaggi
Skills: Attacking, long-range attacking, sprinting
The Call: Hm, I'm a little intrigued by Leukemans and Marcato. There's not much history there besides a lone 26th for Leukie, but Vacansoleil tend to bite on long-range attacks, and in a packed house like MSR they probably won't draw a big reaction. It's a long-shot, as is Feillu's chances in a bunch sprint. But not nil.
Lineup: Davis, Gasparotto, Bazayev, Clarke, Grivko, Iglinsky, Lorenzetto, Vaitkus
Skills: Sprinting, attacking
The Call: Gasparotto is probably more of a threat to win than Davis, and Lorenzetto was fifth in 2008 in the chaos behind Cancellara's attack. Davis has been second and fourth, but as the sprinting talent expands his pathway gets more and more blocked. Of course, I said that about the Worlds too, where he took bronze.
Lineup: Nocentini, Elmiger, Hinault, Kadri, Mondory, Montaguti, Ravard, Krivtsov
The Call: Nocentini was 7th once, that cRaZy 2008 edition. If there are some real threats here, feel free to fill me in.
Lineup: Visconti, ??? (Sinkewicz, Gatto, etc)
The Call: I'm not a fan, but Giovanni Visconti is looking terrific of late. He's similar to Cunego, perhaps a bit more aggressive? If there is anything you can be certain of in this race, it's that Visconti will be hovering around the front come the Poggio, barring mishap. He'll look resplendent in his tricolore kit, as anything is an upgrade from the team's god-awful neon/black array. But he won't close the deal. If the Pro Tour has always been too big for him, so too is MSR.
Lineup: DiLuca, Pozzato, ??? (Paolini, Gusev, Galimzyanov, Ivanov, Kolobnev, J-Rod...)
Skills: Attacking, climbing
The Call: No lineup that I can see, so far, but if Galimzyanov is their fastest sprinter, then sprinting is probably Plan B or C. This is a big race for Pozzato, the 2006 winner, and depending on who they bring Katusha can throw a pretty wide array of guys at the Poggio. DiLuca is desperate for redemption (good luck), Kolobnev is a good threat, Paolini should be on form... I think Ivanov had some trouble in Paris-Nice?? He didn't finish on Deluge Day, but maybe that was just common sense. Anyway, they're sure to be mixing it up, and if they put multiple guys in a small attack, it'll almost certainly be teed up for Pippo.
Lineup: Ventoso, Rojas Gil,
Skills: Sprinting, waiting.
The Call: Seriously, do they keep an empty seat at the table each night for Valverde?
Lineup: Barla, Bertolini, De Marchi, Ermeti, Ferrari, Santoro, Solari, Vicioso
Skills: Cooking, gesticulating
The Call: I'm sorry, I just don't have anything meaningful here. Ferrari is the sprinter, but like his namesake, he is not exactly Mr. Reliable. Not at this level.
Lineup: Aramendia, Castroviejo, Izaguirre, Martinez, Oroz, Sesma, Txurruka, Velasco
Skills: Traveling, packing
The Call: Love to see the Carrots in town. If one of them wins, I am turning the site colors orange and green.
Lineup: Offredo... ?? (Hutarovich? Bonnet? Casar?)
Skills: Attacking, sprinting
The Call: Stumped. Offredo was strong at the Omloop, though I thought maybe he'd crashed? Anyway, I need more info here, starting with an actual lineup, before I can even begin to picture one of them winning.
Lineup: Pelucchi, Felline, Kump, Blanco, Brandle, Duran, Gutierrez, Ratto
The Call: If Marko Kump wins, I will write down on paper the names of all my VDS picks I added when I dumped Kump, and light them on fire.
Lineup: Nothing yet
The Call: I doubt I'll have much more to say even when we know who their guys are.
Lineup: Sascha Modolo?
The Call: Modolo has been very quiet this spring. By comparison, he was on a bit of a roll last year when he came to MSR, so his fourth was no shock. This time it would be.
Acqua e Sapone
Lineup: Garzelli? Napolitano?
Skills: head-shaving, eyebrow-growing
The Call: I kid them, because I love them.