Milan San-Remo preview: Sagan to continue his fine form?

“The Primavera” will open the classics season this Saturday. The sprinters classic, which has been unpredictable over the last few years, will see many contenders battling for a victory on the Via Roma.

The route of this 2017 edition will remain the same as last year, upholding its many challenges such as the Passo del Turchino (143km) and the Capo Mele (241km). Yet, the race really heats up with its testing succession of Capi; with the Cervo, Berta, Cipressa and lastly the Poggio. The finish line will be on the Via Roma, the traditional finish of Milan San Remo.

After a thrilling race last year which saw a surprise victory from French rider Arnaud Démare (FDJ.com), this year’s race will once again be undecided and truly coveted. The two main contenders will be Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) who were both impressive in the first part of the season.

With three victories this season, including two stages at Tirreno-Adratico, Sagan is already in excellent shape to take hold and lead this race. Nonetheless, his tendency to follow attacks in the final kilometers and the weakness of his new team will most definitely bring a sense of challenge to his potential success. The relentless Quick-Step armada, will do everything to put themselves in Sagan’s way. The Belgian team enters this year’s race with what seems to be an almost unbeatable line-up. With Fernando Gaviria to lead, Julian Alaphilippe to escape in the last kilometers, held by Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert to contain the attacks- Patrick Lefevere’s team will be the one to beat. Although unlucky last year, with Gaviria crashing just a few hundred meters before the finish line while victoriously racing for the win, he is back with a fearless attitude. The Colombian rider stands confidently with four victories already this season, including one in Tirreno-Adriatico last week where he finished first in front of… Peter Sagan.

Outsiders who could spring a surprise

Although experts are favouring Sagan and Gaviria for Saturday’s race, it is undeniable that the competition will be on their tails for the win. The Frenchman, Julian Alaphilippe who will aim for the Ardennes classics, is already in a great form as he proved in Paris-Nice. Not only is Alaphilippe an excellent climber, he also knows how to win in a sprint if the competition is heating up behind him. Likewise, last year’s champion Arnaud Démare holds French fans favour after he won a stage in Paris-Nice. However, other sprinters will certainly chase these riders looking for a surprise victory on the Via Roma, following riders such as Arnaud Démare himself in 2016 , Matthew Goss in 2011 or Gerald Ciolek in 2013.

We can count on 2014 victor, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin), who has shown strength and good form in Paris-Nice. Followed by other ex-winners such as Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), who won the Primavera in 2009 and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), winner in 2015, who could potentially sweep up the win. Also, the Australians bring vigor with Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) and his high speed along with Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) and his short height and agility. The young Aussies could hide and then jump on the line in the final straight if they are able to hold on to the first group after the Poggio. Although not a natural sprinter, Olympics Champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) could impress due to his attacking style, fighting spirit, and speed in small group finishes. The final straight of Milan San-Remo will be massively different than Het Nieuwsblad which GVA won, being straight and flat and favoring the powerful Slovak. This proves that the best chance for Van Avermaet to win will be to escape before the final kilometer.

The Italian riders will be more motivated than ever to win the Classicissima as its been over ten years since the last Italian victory, with Filippo Pozzato. Pozzato (Wilier Triestina), does not have the same legs as 11 years ago, could excite even though it may be his last Primavera. Even so, Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida), winner of a stage in Paris-Nice this year, could be the underdog to take the lead. A few other underdogs who may possibly rise to the occasion are Elia Viviani (Team Sky), Sacha Modolo (UAE Team Emirates) and Niccolò Bonifazio (Bahrain-Merida) – all of whom performed well in the past years at The Primavera.

The favourites

*****     Gaviria, Sagan

****       Kristoff, Degenkolb, Démare

***       Ewan, Matthews, Viviani, Van Avermaet, Roelandts,Cavendish

**        Breschel, Bonifazio, Van Poppel, Alaphilippe, Swift

*           Colbrelli, Pozzato, Modolo, Trentin

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