Route Suggests a Sprint Shootout in San Remo

The Milano-San Remo takes place on Saturday with plenty of riders in the mix while there is a potential piece of history to be made.

Bora-Hansgrohe star Peter Sagan

Saturday sees the 111th edition of Milano-San Remo and the nature of the race means, as ever, there is an array of potential winners.

Always the longest Monument of the year – the 2020 route is 299 km – Covid-19 related objections from local authorities have forced the organisers to become creative with the course. Rather than the traditional picturesque jaunt down the Italian riviera, there will be just 36km raced along the iconic parcours.

Still, it is not without its challenges and the late one-two punch of the Cipressa and Poggio climbs could thin out the field before the peloton descends towards the finish line on the Via Roma.

A quick look at the route suggests it will lend itself to the sprinters. However, as always, the question heading into the race remains the same: will the quick men be strong enough to sprint after almost seven hours of racing?

Stage Set for the Sprinters

Although the race has retained its length, this year’s route seems a bit gentler and a sprint finish on the Via Roma appears likely.

Lotto-Soudal’s Caleb Ewan won the sprint for second last year and is 13/2 having showed his form with a runners-up finish in Wednesday’s Milano-Torino.

UAE Team Emirates’ Fernando Gaviria made a fast start to the season with three stage wins at the Vuelta a San Juan and backed it up with a win last week at Burgos so has form at 16/1.

Don’t forget FDJ-Groupama’s Arnaud Demare either. The 2016 winner beat Ewan and the in-form Wout van Aert at Milano-Torino. After an expert display by his Groupama-FDJ team, he will be going all in to double up at 20/1 and of all the quick men, might be the one to strike.

Classics Men Must Be Respected

A race as long as Milano-San Remo is often settled by the sport’s real hard men. Those who can hammer on the pedals for hours at a time but retain enough in the tank to either take off on a solo dash for glory or outsprint their rivals.

The last three winners, Michal Kwiatkowski, Vincenzo Nibali and defending champion Julian Alaphilippe all fall into this category and are on the start list for Saturday.

Alaphilippe has to be considered at 10/1 ahead of a big period in which he will again target the Tour as Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s leader, while the inimitable Peter Sagan is the market leader at 6/1. The Slovakian superstar has twice finished second but there are questions about his conditioning with Bora-Hansgrohe having booked him in for a very busy few months.

Another man heading for France at the end of the month is the aforementioned Van Aert who is 10/1. The star of the restart with his Strade Bianche win, he backed it up with a third in Milano-Torino, demonstrating his handy sprint in the process. A cyclocross specialist, the technical descent down the Poggio will hold no fear and if in the mix at the foot of the climb, look for him to attack.

Can Gilbert Make History?

Belgian ace Philippe Gilbert

Earlier in the year, Lotto-Soudal’s Philippe Gilbert made no secret of his main goal for 2020: win Milano-San Remo. La Classicissima is the sole Monument missing from his palmares and a win on Saturday at 16/1 will see him become only the fourth rider to claim all five.

The Boar of the Ardennes turned 38 in July and after twice finishing on the podium, this looks to be his last chance to complete the set.

Gilbert has rightly been the focus of much of the attention heading into the race and while Ewan is the team’s banker, 2015 winner John Degenkolb’s decision to skip the race means the veteran will be given the free role he usually relishes.

A breakaway will be required if he is to complete the set. But with just five or so kilometres between the top of the Poggio and the finish, he will be ready to pounce should the sprinters’ teams hesitate.

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