This is my second year writing for Podium Café, but I’ve been saying this for many, many more than two years: Milan – San Remo is the most underrated race on the calendar. That’s because it follows a simple recipe; tension and crescendo.
Hey, you want to understand who won the Tour? No point at all watching the last day. The winner was probably decided a week ago. Maybe three. Tuning in for the last 20km of the Ronde? The winning selection has been made, and all the roads you’ve heard of are well behind the peloton, who are hitting a dual carriageway about now. On the other hand, want to watch Fleche? You only need to watch the 90 seconds of agony as they hit the Huy.
MSR though… that’s tense. Clearly, it isn’t as exciting as Ronde, or as important as the Tour, but the last ten kilometres are fantastically exciting. Crucially, there is just enough going on in the first 260km or so to impact what happens when they hit the Poggio, and the end is always special. Until then, it is achingly pretty, there are enough mountains to keep things interesting, and you could do far worse than settle in with some beer or some coffee and watch the riders suffer.
Inrng has summarised the fact that winner goes late. That hides the fact that all sorts of outcomes are possible – this is not as one-dimensional a race as Fleche. Here, we take a quick look at the race details, run through the field, using a betting market as a handy helper, then we play with the possible scenarios and pick a podium.
The full course is essentially unchanged, and looks like this.
It is long, mostly flat, and those hills at the end matter, especially the Cipressa.
Just 5.5km or so from the finish, the riders reach the peak of the Poggio, and then head downhill into San Remo for a long, straight finish.
The weather forecast is calling for rain and some wind (though, frankly, I’d be barbequing if we could get a day like that in Edinburgh at the moment) throughout the day on Saturday. Eurosport, RAI, Sporza, SBS and presumably other channels (apologies, USA readers, I just don’t have the energy to get my head around your TV offerings) are showing the second half live. If you’re only interested in the serious action, you won’t need to be seated until about 4pm San Remo time. Call it 3.30 to be safe. There’s 291km to ride and about seven hours in the saddle.
All the WT teams are there, plus wild cards from Italy (Bardiani, Nippo-Fantini, Willier) and elsewhere (Cofidis, Gazprom, ICA, Novo-Nordisk and Israel Cycling Academy). As a reminder, teams are down to seven riders this year, so we’ll have a maximum of 175 on the startline. Last year’s winner, Kwiatkowski, will be in dossard #1. Basically everyone you expect is here, except Groenewegen and Gaviria aren’t racing.
(I’m using Bet365’s odds for this, for no reason other than that their app is easiest to use on my phone).
The overwhelming favourite – Peter Sagan (15/8). No surprise to see the Fastvakian top the list, and the reason is coming up – there isn’t a race scenario that he can’t win from.
Other strong favourites – Michal Kwiatkowski (8/1), Alexander Kristoff (8/1), Elia Viviani (9/1), Arnaud Demare (11/1), Julian Alaphillipe (14/1). Exactly the list you’d expect to see, though I’m surprised that the early season events haven’t shifted Kristoff out further. Either the odds-setters aren’t watching, or they know how much Kristoff relishes the toughest days he can find.
Lively outsiders – Griepel (18/1), Gilbert (22/1), MCN and GVA (both 25/1), Trentin and Colbrelli (33/1), Ewan, Matthews (who I didn’t think was racing, but is on the startlists) Laporte and Moscon are all 40/1, and you can have 50/1 or higher the rest of the field.
A list of names that I thought you might find interesting, given the prices: Roelandts (80/1), Swift (150/1), Theuns (150/1), Sbaragli (400/1), McLay (500/1).
The early break is brought back, attacks off Cipressa go nowhere, and despite a few digs on the Poggio, a reduced field of 30 or so fight it out in a sprint on the Via Roma.
Probability: 60%. This is what we expect when we sit down to watch MSR.
Who it favours: Those with a strong sprint, who can survive the long day and get over the Poggio with something left in the tank. Also, those who don’t burn matches with late attacks that, in this scenario, are dragged back. Sagan could challenge for a podium, but only if he doesn’t get involved in a 2017-esque attack.
Possible scenario A Podium: Demare, Viviani, Kristoff.
The early break is brought back, attacks off Cipressa go nowhere, and a select few go clear over the Poggio, holding off the reduced peloton to fight for the win between themselves
Probability: 15%. We saw this in 2017, and there’s no reason it can’t happen again.
Who it favours: The classics type riders who are well-positioned on the Poggio and instigate, or respond to, just the right attack. This also needs either one absurdly strong rider going clear, or a group working together well. Alaphillipe could certainly be involved, but only if he finds his legs again, having mislaid them towards the end of Paris-Nice.
Possible scenario B Podium: Kwiatkowski, Sagan, Gilbert.
The early break is brought back, attacks off Cipressa go nowhere, and nobody quite gets it together to attack on the Poggio. A larger than anticipated group is formed on the descent and we see 60 or so riders forming up for a sprint.
Probability: 10%. This seems unlikely, particularly given the expected weather, but it isn’t impossible.
Who it favours: A bit like scenario A, but with more and “purer” sprinters making it into the final group, possibly even with some helpers around them. I don’t think we’ll see Marcel Kittel, but we might see some fast men.
Possible scenario C Podium: Greipel, Viviani, Ewan.
With wind and rain hampering the peloton and causing numerous crashes and abandonments, the race is splintered from fairly early on, and despite something of a regrouping, the attack on the Cipressa goes clear. A very few riders have five minutes coming into the Poggio where attacks begin between the group, and we have a solo winner.
Probability: 5%. I mean… I don’t see it. I suppose it will happen one year, and maybe the weather helps, but even with smaller teams it is just too hard to stay clear of a pro-pack with a monument on the line.
Who it favours: Tough riders, who have the gumption and freedom to attack early, the form to make it stick, and the climbing skills to get over the Poggio with legs like overcooked noodles.
Possible scenario D Podium: Benoot, Lutsenko, Gallopin.
The early break is brought back, attacks off Cipressa go nowhere, and after a splintering of the race on the Poggio, slippery conditions cause chaos on the descent and only a few lucky riders who dodged the falls and kicked clear are able to sprint for the win.
Probability: 5%. I’m always (happily) amazed that we haven’t seen an enormous pile-up on that harum-scarum descent. You can’t convince me there isn’t at least a possibility of it.
Who it favours: Lucky riders who were well-placed and have a combination of good bike-handling and the ability to improvise a long drag-sprint.
Possible scenario E Podium: Sagan, Trentin, Colbreilli.
Weather again plays a part, with the early climbs and the flats making a bigger difference than we expect, and, although we see a group of around 15 making it to the finish, it isn’t the group we’re expecting.
Probability: 5%. Ciolek won in 2013 and it was somewhere between this scenario and scenario A. Don’t rule it out.
Who it favours: Incredibly tough riders with some kind of sprint who make it into the right groups and keep on grinding. Probably on decent form at the moment, or at least prepping for the cobbles.
Possible scenario F Podium: Kristoff, Stuyven, Wisniowski.
The early break goes clear and Matti Breschel breaks from it on the Cipressa. He has twenty minutes in hand and is taking beer hand-ups on his way down the Poggio.
Probability: c’mon, now.
Who it favours: Washingtonians, black swan enthusiasts, bookmakers, counsellors.
Possible scenario G Podium: Breschel, Maurice Garin, the Grim Reaper on a unicycle.
So there you have it – the year’s first monument approaches, and we have
six seven six scenarios as to how it’ll play out and lots of questions. How do you think the race will be won? Who do you think wins? Who would you bet on? Who is representing your FSA-DS squad?