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A battle for history

17/03/2023

Every year, around mid-March, the world’s best Classics hunters gather between Milan and Sanremo for a 300 km race that will propel one of them into cycling history. Altimetrically, as we all known, this race is pretty much as flat as it gets, with a near seven-hour ride from just outside Milan culminating in a build-up of pressure and the iconic final climb of the Poggio before descending to a flat finish in the Ligurian coastal town of Sanremo. Still, Via Roma can be the backdrop of virtually any finale: a packed bunch, a small group, a trio, a duo, or a solitary hero. The route may look easy, but by the riders’ own admission, this is the hardest race to win and being the strongest man is never enough.

Did we say, “the strongest”? Well, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) is definitely the outstanding candidate to win this race: the question is not ‘if he will attack’ but ‘when he will attack’. Last year he was among the main animators of the race on the Poggio, attacking three times but not managing to get rid of his rivals before the top. Let’s not rule out an attempt from further away this year…

Another traditional pick for glory is Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)? The Belgian started his season at the Tirreno-Adriatico and did so by playing a bit of hide and seek, working hard for teammate Primož Roglič and never showing his true form. Same could be said about another Classics superstar, Mathieu Van Der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck), who also hasn’t yet shown top form in 2023. Their two teams will count on an interesting double card though, as the Dutch have Christophe Laporte and the Belgian Jasper Philipsen, both of whom look in great form in this start to the season.

Anyone missing? Sure! Never underestimate Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-QuickStep), who has the know-how and the experience to come at the front of the field and hardly ever misses big appointments. The Belgian team, as usual, will turn up with plenty of alternatives, such as Kasper Asgreen and Davide Ballerini among others. Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) kept relatively quiet at the Milano-Torino, so as not to risk compromising his Classicissima, which is exactly why he should be kept an eye on. We haven’t yet tested him over such a distance and against such opponents, but Walloon youngster Arnaud De Lie (Lotto Dstny) has the engine of a potential champion and the Sanremo could be the ideal stage to show the world his potential.

They are perhaps not the first names to spring to mind, but the versatile Danes Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and Magnus Cort Nielsen (EF Education-EasyPost) are serious contenders. Both are in solid form, and both are made to measure for a route like this, with Cipressa and Poggio challenging the legs of the purest sprinters. Former world champion, in particular, can count on a former winner like Jasper Stuyven, known for always being in the right place at the right time. And speaking of former winners, the No. 1 will be worn by reigning champion Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious), who, last year, soloed to victory with a stunning downhill attack off the Poggio.

And what about Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers)? The Piedmontese rider will have the opportunity to lead – perhaps for the first time – his team in a Monument: Italian fans dream of a finisseur’s long-range strike from him. Among the Azzurri, Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost), who wants to add another Monument to his palmares after the Tour of Flanders, also hopes to make his mark.

The Milano-Sanremo, however, is historically the only Classic that even pure sprinters can dream of winning, although since folks like Pogačar, Van Aert and Van der Poel have been around, it has become increasingly difficult for them to get through the seemingly harmless Poggio unscathed. In addition to the aforementioned Philipsen, Caleb Ewan (Lotto Dstny), second in 2018 and 2021, Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), winner in 2016, Fernando Gaviria (Movistar), Sam Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe) and Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan), winner back in 2009, will be trying to bite the bullet, along with Bryan Coquard and Simone Consonni (Cofidis), Matteo Moschetti (Q36. 5) and Niccolò Bonifazio (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), of whom you may remember the crazy descent from Cipressa in 2020.

 

Among the sprinters, it is fair to include Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies), on his last outing in a race that has always been cursed for him, with two second places and five fourth places in 12 participations. Hard to imagine him with his arms raised in Via Roma, but cycling can be romantic and there would be nothing more romantic than seeing the Slovakian on the top step of the podium.

 

To conclude, here’s a number of outsiders who, in a Russian roulette such as Sanremo, can allow themselves to hope to tast glory. Some of these have never managed to impose themselves at such a high level, others will start as second or third lines of their teams, others are are in the waning phase of their careers; we are talking about Ivan Cortina and Alex Aranburu (Movistar), Luca Mozzato (Arkéa-Samsic), Lorenzo Rota (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), Andrea Vendrame (AG2R Citroën), Michal Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers), vincitore nel 2017, John Degenkolb (Team DSM), vincitore nel 2015, Jan Tratnik (Jumbo-Visma), Corbin Strong (Israel-Premier Tech), Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost), Jhonatan Narvaez (Ineos Grenadiers), Danny Van Poppel (Bora-hansgrohe), Matteo Trentin, Tim Wellens (UAE Team Emirates), Fred Wright, Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious), Zdeněk Štybar (Team Jayco AlUla) and Søren Kragh Andersen (Alpecin-Deceuninck).

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