What is this race and why should I care about it?
Milan-Sanremo is the first of the five monuments of cycling — the others being Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia — and at 299km is the longest one-day race on the calendar.
The late Tom Simpson became the first British rider to win Milan-Sanremo in 1964 when he outwitted Frenchman Raymond Poulidor on the final Poggio climb before adding the first of three monuments to his palmarès. Mark Cavendish became the second and, as yet, only other Briton to win the race after pipping Heinrich Haussler to the line in 2009.
Italian riders have dominated the race since its inception in 1907 where they have won 51 of the 111 editions. Following a relative drought for the host nation, Vincenzo Nibali ended a 12-year wait for Italy with his win in 2018 — Filippo Pozzato (2006) being the previous Italian to prevail. Belgium is the second most successful nation with 21 victories following last year's win from Wout van Aert, while France is third with 14 — including Julian Alaphilippe who triumphed on Via Roma in 2019.
Although often referred to as a sprinters' classic, over the years the race has been won by general classification riders, all-rounders and those ordinarily suited to the cobbles of northern Europe. Indeed, recent editions have been won after attacks on the final climb of the day, the Poggio, held all the way to the line, thus denying the pure sprinters the gallop finish they had been thinking of for the preceding seven hours.
When is Milan-Sanremo?
What is only the third one-day WorldTour race of the year gets under way at 10.00am (9am GMT) on Saturday March 20, 2021.
How long is this year's race?
Milan-Sanremo is a whopping 299 kilometres long.
What does the route look like?
Following last year's diversion that took more of an inland route after a series of Italian mayors of coastal towns near Savona refused access to their roads, the overall route has returned to a more traditional look. However, following a landslide the Passo del Turchino has been removed and replaced by the Colle di Giovo, the route now looking like this . . .
The triumvirate of short climbs known as the Tre Capi — Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta — that precede the Cipressa return to the old race, making its profile for the day looking like this . . .
What does the finale of the race look like?
Once the peloton has descended off the Colle di Giovo and reached the coastline, the peloton will reach the coastline road after around five hours of riding in the legs. If they have not already done so, then the teams with genuine ambitions of winning Milan-Sanremo will be battling hard for position in the countdown to the Cipressa-Poggio double header, both within the final 30km (below).
With a measly 271.8km now in the legs — plus whatever length of neutralised riding the organsiers decide to include at the beginning of the race — the penultimate climb of the day, the Cipressa (below), will be the final act for some riders who simply cannot hold the wheels of team-mates or rivals. For others the 5.6km long climb with an average gradient of 4.1 per cent will become a platform on which to build their challenge.
Either way, there is a very fast descent over the other side. It was here in 2019 where local rider Niccolo Bonifazio (watch below) launched an audacious attack. Though in vain, Bonifazio's move highlighted a key danger point. Nobody will want to have to chase just yet and so one would expect all of the key protagonists will be marking each other.
Once over the Cipressa, a flat, but twisty and technical, stretch of road connects to the final, potentially decisive, climb of the day: the Poggio.
Or to give it its full name, the Poggio di Sanremo.
Situated just 9km from the finish, the 3.7km long climb with an average gradient of under four per cent, is a perennial graveyard for many hopefuls. On numerous occasions, too, it has provided the launchpad for an assault. In the 2017 edition Peter Sagan attacked on the steeper section near the summit that reaches eight per cent, only Alaphilippe and Michal Kwiatkowski were able to respond, the latter eventually going on to win.
The descent is extremely technical and not one for the feint-hearted. Right now the forecast is for dry weather, but whatever the conditions the riders will still have to navigate their way through a series of tight hairpins, all on very, very narrow roads. Concentration and nerve is key.
As you can see from the above profile, once safely off the Poggio, the course flattens out as the race enters the unremarkable town of Sanremo.
The final sting in the tail in what will be the longest one-day race many riders will have ever done comes just 750 metres from the finishing line on Via Roma as they are faced with a 90-degree left-hand turn, quickly followed by another 90-degree turn before hitting the final straight.
How can I watch this year's race?
Those lucky enough to have subscriptions can watch the action on Eurosport or GCN Race Pass. If you cannot watch the race on TV — or your smartphone — then you can follow the action here, so bookmark this page and return on the day of the race and follow it with us. Gratis.
What's in it for the winner?
The winner will trouser a cheque to the value of €20,000 while the second-placed rider gets €10,000 and the rider on the third step of the podium €5,000. Each rider in the top 20 will take home something.
With Milan-Sanremo being a WorldTour race, there will also be points on offer that will go towards a riders' overall rankings . . .
What teams will ride at Milan-Sanremo?
As with all WorldTour races, each of the 19 teams that make up the top-flight of men's professional cycling receive an invite and in the case of Milan-Sanremo all of them are contracted to race in northern Italy.
In addition to the WorldTeams, Pro-Continental teams Alpecin-Fenix and Arkéa-Samsic also qualified to race courtesy of last year's rankings, while race organisers RSC handed wildcard spots to Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec, Bardiani-CSF-Faizane, Novo Nordisk and Total Direct Énergie.
What does the startlist look like?
Race organsiers RCS released the provisional seven-man teams to contest Milan-Sanremo on Wednesday afternoon, Telegraph Sport will update any further changes between now and the start of the race on Saturday.
Ag2r-Citroën (Fra): Stan Dewulf (Bel), Alexis Gougeard (Fra), Oliver Naesen (Bel), Michael Schär (Swi), Greg Van Avermaet (Bel), Gijs Van Hoecke (Bel), Andrea Vendrame (Ita).
Astana-Premier Tech (Kaz): Alex Aranburu (Spa), Manuele Boaro (Ita), Fabio Felline (Ita), Dmitriy Gruzdev (Kaz), Gorka Izagirre (Spa), Davide Martinelli (Ita), Matteo Sobrero (Ita, neo-pro).
Bahrain Victorious (Brn): Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn), Eros Capecchi (Ita), Damiano Caruso (Ita), Sonny Colbrelli (Ita), Heinrich Haussler (Aus), Matej Mohoric (Slo), Fred Wright (GB, neo-pro).
BikeExchange (Aus): Luke Durbridge (Aus), Michael Hepburn (Aus), Christopher Juul-Jensen (Den), Alexander Konychev (Ita, neo-pro), Michael Mathews (Aus), Luka Mezgec (Slo), Robert Stannard (Aus).
Bora-Hansgrohe (Ger): Pascal Ackermann (Ger), Cesare Benedetti (Ita), Maciej Bodnar (Pol), Marcus Burghardt (Ger), Daniel Oss (Ita), Peter Sagan (Svk), Maximilian Schachmann (Ger).
Cofidis, Solutions Crédits (Fra): Christophe Laporte (Fra), Guillaume Martin (Fra), Anthony Perez (Fra), Pierre-Luc Périchon (Fra), Fabio Sabatini (Ita), Kenneth Vanbilsen (Bel), Elia Viviani (Ita).
Deceuninck-Quick Step (Bel): Julian Alaphilippe (Fra), Kasper Asgreen (Den), Davide Ballerini (Ita), Sam Bennett (Irl), Tim Declercq (Bel), Yves Lampaert (Bel), Zdenek Stybar (Cze).
DSM (Ger): Romain Bardet (Fra), Romain Combaud (Fra), Nico Denz (Ger), Soren Kragh Andersen (Den), Casper Pedersen (Den), Jasha Sütterlin (Ger), Martijn Tusveld (Hol).
EF Education-Nippo (US): Alberto Bettiol (Ita), Stefan Bissegger (Swi, neo-pro), Jonathan Caicedo (Ecu), Magnus Cort (Den), Sergio Higuita (Col), Sebastian Langeveld (Hol), Tom Scully (NZ).
Groupama-FDJ (Fra): Arnaud Démare (Fra), Kevin Geniets (Hol), Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita), Ignatas Konovalovas (Ltu), Rudy Molard (Fra), Miles Scotson (Aus), Ramon Sinkeldam (Hol).
Ineos Grenadiers (GB): Filippo Ganna (Ita), Ethan Hayter (GB, neo-pro), Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol), Gianni Moscon (Ita), Tom Pidcock (GB, neo-pro), Salvatore Puccio (Ita), Luke Rowe (GB).
Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux (Bel): Aimé De Gendt (Bel), Jonas Koch (Ger), Andrea Pasqualon (Ita), Lorenzo Rota (Ita), Taco van der Hoorn (Hol), Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Bel), Loïc Vliegen (Bel).
Israel Start-up Nation (Isr): Matthias Brändle (Aut), Davide Cimolai (Ita), Alessandro De Marchi (Ita), Hugo Hofstetter (Fra), Krists Neilands (Lat), Mads Wurtz Schmidt (Den), Rick Zabel (Ger).
Jumbo-Visma (Hol): Edoardo Affini (Ita), Paul Martens (Ger), Sam Oomen (Hol), Christoph Pfingsten (Ger), Timo Roosen (Hol), Wout van Aert (Bel), Jos van Emden (Hol).
Lotto-Soudal (Bel): Jasper De Buyst (Bel), John Degenkolb (Ger), Caleb Ewan (Aus), Frederik Frison (Bel), Philippe Gilbert (Bel), Roger Kluge (Ger), Tim Wellens (Bel).
Movistar (Spa): Iván García Cortina (Spa), Matteo Jorgenson (US, neo-pro), Lluís Mas (Spa), Nelson Oliveira (Por), Gonzalo Serrano (Spa), Albert Torres (Spa), Davide Villella (Ita).
Qhubeka-Assos (SA): Victor Campenaerts (Bel), Simon Clarke (Aus), Michael Gogl (Aut), Bert-Jan Lindeman (Hol), Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita), Emil Vinjebo (Den), Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol).
Trek-Segafredo (US): Nicola Conci (Ita), Jacopo Mosca (Ita), Ryan Mullen (Irl), Vincenzo Nibali (Ita), Quinn Simmons (US, neo-pro), Toms Skujins (Lat), Jasper Stuyven (Bel).
UAE Team Emirates (UAE): Sven Erik Bystrom (Nor), Alessandro Covi (Ita, neo-pro), Davide Formolo (Ita), Fernando Gaviria (Col), Alexander Kristoff (Nor), Maximiliano Richeze (Arg), Matteo Trentin (Ita).
UCI Professional Continental teams
Alpecin-Fenix (Bel): Dries De Bondt (Bel), Senne Leysen (Bel), Kristian Sbaragli (Ita), Petr Vakoc (Cze), Mathieu van der Poel (Hol), Otto Vergaerde (Bel), Gianni Vermeersch (Bel).
Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec (Ita): Mattia Bais (Ita), Luca Chirico (Ita), Simon Pellaud (Swi), Simone Ravanelli (Ita), Josip Rumac (Cro), Nicola Venchiarutti (Ita), Mattia Viel (Ita).
Arkéa-Samsic (Fra): Warren Barguil (Fra), Nacer Bouhanni (Fra), Amaury Capiot (Bel), Dan McLay (GB), Laurent Pichon (Fra), Clément Russo (Fra), Connor Swift (GB).
Bardiani-CSF-Faizane (Ita): Enrico Battaglin (Ita), Filippo Fiorelli (Ita), Davide Gabburo (Ita), Umberto Marengo (Ita), Daniel Savini (Ita), Alessandro Tonelli (Ita), Giovanni Visconti (Ita).
Novo Nordisk (US): Sam Brand (GB), Brian Kamstra (Hol), Peter Kusztor (Hun), David Lozano (Spa), Andrea Peron (Ita), Charles Planet (Fra), Umberto Poli (Ita).
Total Direct Énergie (Fra): Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor), Niccolo Bonifazio (Ita), Lorrenzo Manzin (Fra), Adrien Petit (Fra), Julien Simon (Fra), Niki Terpstra (Hol), Anthony Turgis (Fra).
And who are the favourites to win the race?
The provisional start list may contain seven former winners — Alexander Kristoff (2014), John Degenkolb (2015), Arnaud Démare (2016), Michal Kwiatkowski (2017), Vincenzo Nibali (2018), Julian Alaphilippe (2019) and Wout van Aert (2020) — but on current form the favourite to win on Saturday has to be the Dutch powerhouse that is Mathieu van der Poel.
Whether dropping watt bombs at Strade Bianche or riding the field off his wheel in the freezing rain at Tirreno-Adriatico, Van der Poel has proved time and again that on his day and mechanical issues permitting, he is almost unstoppable. Little wonder, then, that the best odds bookmakers are offering on Van der Poel to win 2021's first monument are 19/5.
Despite the relatively short odds on Van der Poel la classicissima is far from being a one-horse race. As Mark Cavendish, the winner here in 2009, once said: "It's the easiest race to finish, but the hardest to win."
Defending champion Van Aert is the second favourite with the bookmakers (27/5) and will be desperate to stop his great rival Van der Poel, though with fewer race days in his legs may pay the price for taking an extended break following the cyclo-cross season. That said, beat some of the best sprinters in the world on the opening day of his road season at Tirreno-Adriatico which bodes well should the race end in a sprint.
Alaphilippe, meanwhile, is the third favourite (19/2) and has been going well in the early part of the season, picking up a stage win at Tirreno-Adriatico after outsprinting Van der Poel and Van Aert.