Classics season begins this weekend on Saturday, March 19th with “the spring classic” Milan-San Remo. The Milan-San Remo is unlike the other classics. It doesn’t have cobbles, or frequently horrendous weather. It doesn’t have numerous climbs packed into such a tight distance that riders fall off the pace like dead flies. What it has is length and at 298km it is the longest classic. It also has speed, as in finishing stretch speed, and is the fastest of the classics and the only one the true sprinters target. The Milan San-Remo is touted as the easiest classic to finish but the hardest to win.
The 2010 edition unfolded in the typical mass-sprint and was won with Oscar Freire, three-time-winner, blowing the doors of the rest of the field including Tom Boonen, who finished second and who is looking for the elusive first win. Eddy Merckx (’66,’67,’69,’71,’72,’75,’76) has the record for the most wins with 7 and if Oscar Freire can win it again this year, he could tie Erik Zabel and Gino Bartali with four wins, which is only less than the aforementioned Merckx (7) and Costante Girardengo (6)
I had the pleasure to ride the Milano – San Remo solo in 2009, the centenary year of the race, on the first Cima Coppi Tour. The route is tremendous, and is worthy of a classic race. For me, it is some of the most beautiful riding I have ever done and once you decend the Turchino, the ride along the sea is something that every cyclist should experience. You can read about my ride here.
For this weekend, we’ve got 18 teams and almost ever team has a rider who is going to be targeting the big win, but in my mind there are only 8 who really have a chance:
1. Rabobank – Freire, Boom, Langeveld, Matthews, Flens, Tjallingi, Wynants
Favorite: Oscar Freire – Oscarito has won this thing enough times to know what he is doing, he has the endurance to last the 298km, the kick to win the sprint and the health to be in play.
Outside Chance: Lars Boom – he is a powerhouse.
Miracle Win: Michael Matthews – young, talented and fast, but don’t hold your breath.
2. Garmin – Haussler, Farrar, Hushovd, Hammond, Navardauskas, Klier, VanSummeren, Wilson
Favorite: Heinrich Haussler – Haussler is back and he’s healthy… err… as long as his wrist is ok. He’s the fastest on the team who also has the versatility to get to the line. Farrar may be faster, but he’s going to have to hold on to the group. Hushovd has no chance.
Outside Chance: Tyler Farrar – he’s fast enough, but is he fit enough?
Miracle Win: Thor Hushovd – I just don’t see it, unless he gets away alone, but…. c’mon.
3. HTC – Cavendish, Goss, Eisel, Peter Velits, Albasini, Grabsch, Renshaw, Bak
Favorite: Mark Cavendish – he’s going to make me eat my words, that I think he won’t make the climb, because the others know if he does…
Outside Chance: Matthew Goss – he climbs better than Cav, but he also works for him
Miracle Win: Mark Renshaw – No way he gets to the line before both Goss and Cav.
4. Quickstep – Boonen, Bandiera, Chavanel, Reda, Malacarne, Van Impe, Pineau, Terpstra
Favorite: Tom Boonen – this isn’t Tom’s classic, but he wants it. He was working on his speed, but I think last year’s 2nd is the closest he’ll ever get.
Outside Chance: Sylvain Chavanel – maybe if he gets away with other early attackers.
Miracle Win: Niki Terpstra – Maybe if he attacks from 100km out and somehow sticks it.
5. Lotto – Gilbert, Greipel, Hansen, Lang, Reynes, Roelandts, Sieberg, Veikkanen
Favorite: Philippe Gilbert – If Gilbert can attack on the Poggio, he could do it… if he gets some A-class break-mates, like Chavanel and Cunego.
Outside Chance: Andre Greipel – if he gets over the climbs with the others I’ll eat a gorilla.
Miracle Win: Greipel…. see above.
6. Lampre – Petacchi, Cunego, Scarponi, (don’t know who else)
Favorite: Alessandro Petacchi – If Cavendish makes the climb, he’s going to wipe everyone out in a crash and Petacchi will go on the other side of the road to the win.
Outside Chance: Damiano Cunego – if he breaks with Gilbert and Gilbert… uhhh… stops racing?
Miracle Win: Any other Lampre guy.
7. Liquigas – Sagan, Oss, Nibali, Koren, Finetto, Dall’Antonia, Capecchi, Caruso, Agnoli, Finetto
Favorite: Peter Sagan – He seemed _________ (sick?, slow?, hurt?) at Paris – Nice but he’s got the tools for a young kid. Dude won a race on a city bike…. don’t count him out
Outside Chance & Miracle Win: nope.
Ok, it’s getting a little thin. Leopard’s Fabian Cancellara has won before and he’s got his little buddy Daniele Bennati, but I don’t see it happening for either of them. Cancellara will be watched like crazy and Benna won’t win a sprint from the group. Sacha Modolo is off form after last years 4th for Colnago. BMC has Ballan but it won’t happen. Saxo Bank is sending JJ Haedo as their guy, but he’s a notch down from the favorites. Sky will be placing their hopes on Boassen-Hagen, and The Shack has McEwen and Cardoso. Cofidis (Keukeleire?), Acqua e Sapone (Garzelli?), Euskaltel (Castroviejo?), FDJ (Hutarovich?), Geox (Kump?), Androni (Ferrari?), Movistar (Ventoso?) and Farnese-Vini (Visconti?) all gave me a hard time thinking of someone who seriously has a hope.
Details of the 2011 race:
Images © RCS/La Gazzetta dello Sport