AFP / Yuzuru Sunada
Slovakian Peter Sagan lines up at the opening one-day classic of the season with revenge on his mind but knowing a determined bunch of sprinters could again bar his route to victory in Milan-SanRemo on Sunday. Cannondale rider Sagan edged closer to his first victory in one of cycling’s five ‘monuments’ by finishing runner-up to German sprinter Gerald Ciolek last year when heavy snowfall played havoc with the race.
This year organizers have barely spared a thought for Sagan and other riders who are well suited to the tough, flatter classics and smaller stage races – they have removed the Manie and Pompeiana climbs altogether. The decision is a boost for the sprinters but not for Sagan, one of a select few riders able to mix it up on the flat with sprinters as well as leaving them behind when the road starts to climb. But the 24-year-old hopes his condition will allow him to finally add Milan-SanRemo to a growing list of honors which includes two Tour de France green jerseys, four stages from the race and three from the Tour of Spain.
“I’ve done what I can to make sure I’m in top form,” said Sagan, a recent stage winner at Tirreno-Adriatico. “My results so far have been good. Milan-SanRemo has always been one of my most objectives of the season.”
Known as ‘La Primavera’, Milan-SanRemo has traditionally heralded the arrival of spring and on Sunday, following a week of blazing sunshine, heavy rain is expected. Following a series of landslides in Liguria, it prompted speculation the course could yet undergo changes, although the the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper, citing local officials in Savona, rubbished those reports Thursday. With the experience of last year’s weather-induced chaos, Sagan added: “Last year’s experience was valuable for me because it showed me just how unpredictable and difficult this classic can be.”
Landslides in Liguria
Starting in Milan, the 105th edition is an arduous 294 kilometers although the removal of the Pompeiana, originally situated between the Cipressa and Poggio climbs in the final 30km, should ease things a little. It prompted reports the course could undergo late changes, following a series of landslides in Liguria, although the the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper, citing local officials in Savona, rubbished those reports Thursday.
Sagan, as well as former winner Fabian Cancellara, will be hoping for the toughest race possible to eliminate as many sprinters as possible before a finale on a home straight on which, against the fast men of the peloton, the pair’s chances would be drastically reduced.
Tour de France sprint king Mark Cavendish won the race in 2009 when he pipped Heinrich Haussler at the finish and lines up with another former winner, Alessandro Petacchi, alongside him in his Omega-Pharma team. Cavendish also underlined his pre-race form with a stage win at Tirreno-Adriatico, but despite having fast legs has enough experience to know that, on the day, victory in SanRemo can be a lottery.
“There are so many variables at Milan-San Remo, and that is what makes it beautiful,” Cavendish said. “It’s not an easy race just because it ends in a sprint. Anyone on the start line can win, and there is no other Classic or race like that. It’s a long race, the easiest to finish, but the hardest to win.”
Andre Greipel, meanwhile, spearheads Lotto’s hopes although the Belgian team’s focus could switch to Frenchman Tony Gallopin or Belgian Juergen Roelandts if the German is dropped on either the Cipressa or Poggio. Also in contention is Cancellara, the 2008 winner who finished runner-up in both 2011 and 2012 to Australians Matt Goss and Simon Gerrans respectively and third last year.
Cancellara, like Sagan, will contrive to make sure the field is devoid of as many sprinters as possible for the finale, but his team manager at Trek, Luca Guarcilena, admitted the change of course has reduced that possibility.
“A more exacting course would have been welcome,” he said. “We have to find a way to make sure the race doesn’t finish in a bunch sprint.”