The first cycling Monument of the season is almost upon us as we take to the longest one day race in the World Tour calendar, Milan-San Remo. Affectionately known as La Primavera, the race heralds the true start of the spring classic season as one the first of the five major one day races of the racing calendar.
Taking riders from the industrial heartland of Milan in the north to the seaside resort of San Remo, the day’s racing can throw up unpredictable weather conditions with snow, rain and sun all being on offer in the iconic race, giving riders a whole host of challenges to overcome.
Maxing out at just short of 300km (291km), the day’s race tests riders early season endurance and despite the day’s second half being fairly flat the fast men will struggle to win it given the endurance specialists’ propensity to last the distance.
So with that being said, who have we picked to watch out for this weekend?
1. Phillipe Gilbert
The Belgian rider has set his sights on becoming the fourth man to have ever won all five Monuments of cycling and needing just Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix to complete the collection Gilbert will be eyeing up all the moves.
Not quite as strong a solo attacker as the likes of Peter Sagan, Michal Kwiatkowski and Greg Van Avermaet but also not quite a fast man, Gilbert will have his work cut out.
But don’t write off the plucky Boar of the Ardennes as he can punish any mistake as seen in last year’s epic Tour of Flanders victory where he put Sagan, Van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen to the sword after they crashed out.
To keep the dream of five alive, Gilbert will be giving it his all in Italy.
2. Michal Kwiatkowski
The winner back in 2017, Kwiatkowski just had an edge over world champion Sagan who he beat by a wheel over the line.
While the Polish rider wasn’t up to scratch at a notoriously bad Strade Bianche weather-wise, the Team Sky rider’s season has been looking good with overall wins at both Volta ao Algarve and Tirreno-Adriatico.
However, with rain forecasted for large parts of northern Italy this weekend the conditions may not be to his liking as was apparent in his Strade Bianche defence bid.
3. Alexander Kristoff
The Norwegian had a year to forget in 2017 but it looks like he has put all that behind him as he has bagged himself two victories so far in 2018 and 10 top 10 finishes.
While that may not look like much, Kristoff has got pedigree here winning the race back in 2014, besting the likes of Fabian Cancellara, Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan.
But his most recent outing saw him finish Paris-Nice with a race best of fifth on the fifth stage posing questions as to whether he has enough to contest the podium, let alone win.
4. Peter Sagan
It wouldn’t be right to have a list like this without the biggest showman of them all, although Sagan is generally problematic with these lists given his tendency to always be in the mix but miss out on the final win.
Milan-San Remo is one race the 28-year-old has always wanted but always missed out on with second place being his best finish in both 2013 and 2017.
However, the puncheur has been in fine form with 10 top 10 finishes in three races (Tour Down Under, Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico) including a stage win and the points jersey at the Tour Down Under.
One thing to remember though is that even when Sagan doesn’t win, he inevitably makes the headlines.
5. Arnaud Demare
The French national champ often goes under the radar when it comes to the top riders in the peloton but Demare is certainly up there.
FDJ-Groupama’s man has already had a good start to 2018 six top ten finishes, including second place at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and a stage win at Paris-Nice.
The standout point for Demare is that he is a battler who has already won at Milan-San Remo and he will be eager to carry on the good form that saw him holding the points jersey until torrid weather forced the rider and scores of others to abandon.
Greg Van Avermaet
We’d loved to have put Van Avermaet in the list but recent cold spurts in Europe have affected the rider with the Belgian saying that wintery conditions have impeded his classics campaign.
Since moving from the hot sun of the Middle East to Europe, the Olympic champ’s best has only seen him reach 34th at Strade Bianche and with rain forecasted for Saturday we don’t like his chances. Prove us wrong Greg.
The German fast man has had a quiet 2018 until recently managing to nab his first win of the year on Tirreno-Adriatico’s second stage followed by another stage win on stage six.
You may be questioning why he didn’t make the list as he seems to be peaking at just the right time but this year’s race will be the rider’s debut and he has proven that despite being one of the fastest out there his endurance may not be up to it, especially if a decent attack launches in the closing kilometres.