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Ranking the favorites for La Primavera

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The excitement is starting to build before Sunday's Milano-Sanremo, the biggest event so far this year. In the coming weeks the big races will follow like pearls on a string but right now we are taking status of a field at KM 0, ready to release the power of a long winter build-up. This is the first, and for the Italians the greatest, of the Monuments and it's make or break time for many. This is the Podiumcafe rating of the chances of the bigs on Sunday. I feel confident that there will be a broad consensus that I got it right, there usually is about these things.

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

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Alexander Kristoff
There is no getting around it. He is superior to the rest in the extra-long races, his form has been stellar all spring and he has a stronger,more dedicated team than a year ago. A lot of teams are hedging their bets, an attacker to go with early moves, a sprinter if it comes down to that. Katusha are probably stronger for committing to one plan and believing in it. I struggle to see what if anything points against a repeat-win?

kristoff sanremo Bryn Lennon - Velo/Getty Images Bryn Lennon - Velo/Getty Images

Photo by Bryn Lennon - Velo/Getty Images


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Mark Cavendish
The little angry man on a mission. Everything this winter seems to have been geared towards this race and he looks as ready as he did in 2009. What could kill his chances is absurdly the fact that he has a stronger team this time. Unfortunately for Cav, stronger means more people who can win and a split focus. If he had as single minded a team as he did when he won he'd be a six \o/-favorite. Etixx aren't stupid though, odds are most of the helpers are fully committed to Cav, question is if there are enough of them.

Peter Sagan
Here we go again. Can we just agree that he should be winning one of these soon. And he can. The time for talk about Sagan is over, it's delivery time. I'm not overly optimistic.

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Michal Kwiatkowski
Cavendish's biggest opponent in the end. Really the most credible long attacker at this point. No one has shown the surgical strikes that he has in the last year. Or shown the brute force. But will the multiple cards be Etixx undoing in the end? Maybe the deciding factor in this race will be how capable the few Etixx helpers will be on the day and how the team managers have allocated their resources.

Michael Matthews
People keep painting him as a big favorite. I don't quite see it, at least not yet. Orica are good at their setups but MSR will always require some freelancing and I'm not completely sold that Matthews actually has the required hardness to make it to the pointy end yet. It would be fun to be wrong though and his preparation has obviously been spot on.

Fabian Cancellara
Only an idiot predicts Cance off the podium at this point but does anyone really see how he wins in Sanremo? Maybe by taking everyone by surprise with a sprint that shouldn't really come as a surprise at this point? My guess, an anonymous MSR followed by an anything but anonymous cobbles campaign.

Greg Van Avermaet
Strength: check. Form: check. Team: check. Confidence: check. Race smarts.......... ahhhh herein lies our problem. GVA isn't the fastest sprinter but he could be the fastest sprinter in a group. So far though he has shown an impressive array of ways to mess up finishes that should have been in his favor. If this is where he gets it right he should maybe be a favorite on par with Kristoff but the sad fact is that I doubt anyone thinks it is.

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Zdenek Stybar
The wild card in the Etixx deck of cards to play. If Cav is out of action and/or the the whole race becomes a free-for-all then Stybar could be the man. Nobody seems to read races smarter or get things more right on the road than Styby right now. These are all qualities that can win you a Milano-Sanremo but who knows what his role will be on Sunday? If he is Cav's bodyguard he won't be in a position to win in the end.

John Degenkolb
Where's the form though? Is he as good as we have started to assume he will be? Either he is peaking beautifully under the radar just in time for the big races or Giant are in for a very quiet spring. Degenkolb could be the major benefactor of an active finale, if the big sprinters cruise to the finale though, he is toast, there isn't enough headbobbing in the world to save him if Cavendish is delivered in a good position.

Degenkolb goofy hat

Photo by Jose Jordan AFP

JJ Lobato
If he can just get Piti out of the way he's the obvious guy to look out for this year. Can he hack it in the company of the really big boys though? Not a given by any means but he has been looking like one of the more obvious MSR top 10 finishers this spring.

Ben Swift
The eternally overlooked Sky brit, once tipped for greatness when they pinched him from Katusha, is now looking like a man on the brink of the major breakthrough. With a hard race and a bit of luck this could be it.

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Tony Gallopin
One of the more promising prospects for a win from an attack, on form and perfectly suited for a finale like this.

Heinrich Haussler
Hope springs eternal. If Cav can return to 2009, why can't Heino? Judging by the earlier races he's a great bet for a top 10but maybe not a win.

Phillippe Gilbert
Him and Van Avermaet is a fearsome duo really and it is weird pegging Gilbert as the weaker card of the two but it just seems like MSR is the race that isn't to be for him. Both Van Avermaet and Gilbert in an attack over the Poggio might make for an interesting idea though and it isn't all that far-fetched.

Rui Costa
Good enough to pull something off but probably too well marked by now. Guessing a group that plays the kind of games that end with Costa winning is more likely to be caught by charging sprinters than anything else.

Sacha Modolo
Had a breakthrough third place here once. Where you been since Sacha?

Arnaud Demare
Another one of the too anonymous guys this spring. Could surprise but I don't see it.

Nacer Bouhanni
Never really done MSR as far as I can see but he is tougher than he's often given credit for. He might well be in a bigger group after Poggio. Winning..........? Meh.

Elia Viviani
Now here's a guy who can take on Cav when on his best. Getting to the finish in the front seems a bigger issue.

Random MTN-Qubekite
Presumably it's Ciolek, the former winner, who is their guy but it could be any of their 67 other sprinters. Well probably not their other former winner Goss but you know what I mean.

Sonny Colbrelli
Is this a shit small race? No, well then Colbreli is probably out of his depth but who knows.