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Against the Odds: Milan-San Remo

Identifying the betting value in the season's first monument

2012 Milan - Sanremo Cycle Race Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Milan-San Remo is coming, and if you listened to our podcast, you’ll know that it is one of my favourite races of the year. I love the harum-scarum approach, the faint doubt that it won’t all come back together (we know there will be a year when the attack comes, just as we know it probably won’t be this year) and the broad range of possible winners. There’ll be more on the race this week, but for now, let’s get into some of the people who might win, and some who probably won’t, and what that means for our betting.

The course

I wouldn’t place a bet without making sure I understand the course, but with MSR the formula is well-established (though it does vary over time). Effectively, the winner needs to be able to sprint after a uniquely long race (around 290km) and after some short sharp hills in the finale. There’s also an outside chance of a puncher winning with an attack over the capi or off the Poggio. A chance.

The weather

This has been a factor in previous MSRs (MSRi?) but the forecasts are currently showing dry and sufficiently warm. We should be okay. A bit of wind around, but not a huge factor.

The betting market

The markets are here, and you’re not going to believe this, but Peter Sagan is a favourite. He’s (5.5) 9/2, which gives him an implied percentage of 18.2 – he’s expected to win somewhere between one in six and one in five of his starts. That sounds about right to me – he hasn’t won yet and it isn’t a race that is ideally suited to him, but he’s clearly a great rider in good form and with a sprint and sufficient climbing chops. Still, at that price, I’d be willing to oppose him.

Among the rest of the field, Gaviria is 7.5 (13/2), an implied percentage of 13.3, and the only other rider expected (by the market) to win more than one in ten of his starts. I don’t think he’s worthy of that price, although he’s clearly another wicked sprinter and as tough as they come. Bad luck was a factor last year but I wouldn’t have him as a favourite.

What that means is, we have ourselves a wide-open race. This is good news for betting. My advice for betting is always to buy a bunch of lottery tickets, not a bank account. It is much more fun and just as likely to succeed. This race is set up very well for that approach.

Some “power rankings”

Here comes the highly subjective bit. I’ve listed below my ten riders who I think are most likely to win the race, together with their odds (and implied winning percentage) and their position in the betting market. Effectively, this is a quick look at riders who, in the way I read the race, are most likely to represent value.

There are a couple of names missing. Bonifazio, who I’ve already backed, is inexplicably not being supported by his team who seem to think Colbrelli has a better chance. This makes me upset. Despite what I said on the podcast about Brian Coquard having a good chance, he is limited by the fact he, um, won’t be taking part. Sorry about that.

There are lots of others who I think have excellent chances but who aren’t included – ten simply isn’t enough for a race as open as this one.

MSR rankings.csv

Andrew's Rank Name Decimal Odds Fractional Odds Betting rank Implied winning %
Andrew's Rank Name Decimal Odds Fractional Odds Betting rank Implied winning %
1 Arnaud Demare 15 14/1 4= 6.7%
2 Alexander Kristoff 15 14/1 4= 6.7%
3 Nacer Bouhanni 17 16/1 6= 5.9%
4 Peter Sagan 5.5 9/2 1 18.2%
5 Jon Degenkolb 14 13/1 3 7.1%
6 Michael Matthews 19 18/1 8 5.3%
7 Ben Swift 41 40/1 16= 2.4%
8 Greg Van Avermaet 26 25/1 9 3.8%
9 Magnus Cort Nielsen 51 50/1 20= 2.0%
10 Matteo Trentin 81 80/1 26= 1.2%


First of all, let’s come back to my contention that this is a good race for betting on. I’ve said already that I don’t think Gaviria is in the top ten of chances. Additionally, I think Sagan is not the likeliest winner. Finally, there are a few “pure” sprinters who are high in the betting market and who I don’t think are likely to feature – Ewan at 33/1, Greipel and Kittel at 40/1, and Cavendish at 16/1 (this reflects UK-bias to some extent). Add in some non-sprinters who I think are overrated (Alaphillipe and Colbrelli, both 33/1) and you have 48% of the market that I think is a false price. That’s why I say there’s value – the remainder of the market seems to me to be fairly, or positively, priced.

The lottery tickets

A few names that I will be thinking hard about supporting at a price – Bonifazio (100/1, already backed), Kwiatkowski as a breakaway contender (50/1), Swift (40/1), Trentin (80/1) and Gerrans (125/1). I haven’t placed any bets with hard cash apart from my winter bet on Bonifazio, but all of these are appealing at each-way prices (again, each-way bets reward winning and placing on the podium, to differing degrees).

The picks

For the purposes of our fake bets, I have two bets. First, Demare to win, $75 at 14/1. I like Kristoff’s chances enormously but I’ve been more impressed with Demare early this season. I mentioned Bouhanni on the podcast but his odds are far too close to my preferred contenders given his form, or lack thereof.

My second pick is $12.50 each-way, at a massive price. I like Kristian Sbargali at 250/1. He’ll be more than up for success in this race as an Italian, he’s sprinting better than ever early this season, and he should be able to make the finish. It is probably that he’ll be riding for EBH but at the price, the possibility of him nicking a podium place are worth investing.

I’ve updated our fake bets spreadsheet here, and will do so again with Chris and Conor’s picks.