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Three Scenarios for la Classicissima

March 14, 2012

This weekend marks the first of the five cycling monuments, Milan-San Remo, la Primavera. It’s a difficult race to predict, because it comes so early in the season that it’s hard to gauge riders’ form. It’s also so early that many cyclists aren’t yet in peak form. Many are targeting races later in the season; the one-day specialists have their sites set on Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in early April. The course is also such that it’s difficult to determine whether the race will end in a successful breakaway or in a sprint. Which makes it a tough race to call. Last spring, relative outsider Matt Goss caught everybody by surprise. I’m not sure anyone would have picked Goss in advance. Instead of picking a winner, here are three scenarios for the finale:

  1. If anyone is showing exceptionally good form, it’s Fabian Cancellara. He demolished the field at la Strade Bianche at the beginning of the month and put in a very powerful concluding time-trial at Tirreno-Adriatico. Spartacus is strong enough that he could just ride away from the entire pack, especially if their collective form isn’t 100%. Either on the Poggio or elsewhere, Cancellara could just bring the race to an early climax and solo to easy victory. He’s won this race before, and is one of the lone favorites to be showing exceptional form.
  2. Mark Cavendish has long claimed that he dreams of winning this race (again) while wearing the rainbow bands of the world champion. Cav gets a bad reputation for having a hot temper and a sharp tongue, but he knows his sport’s history and heritage and it means a lot to him. This is a serious goal, and there is no one in the world who is faster than him on a final sprint. Too, Team Sky really has it together this year. They’ve been absolutely brilliant controlling races, coming off Bradley Wiggins’s win at Paris-Nice, but have showed that they are a well-oiled unit capable of working for a team leader and capable of canceling out the tactics and attacks from other teams. If Sky can get Cav over the Poggio and keep the race together for a group sprint, the easy money should be on the Manxman.
  3. It’s been forever since an Italian won a Monument, and I have a hunch that this is the year. But who? While there aren’t any obvious candidates among the A-list favorites for the race, there are a few riders who could break through in the right conditions. These conditions involve a breakaway that doesn’t include Cancellara (because he will be heavily marked), thereby negating the two scenarios above. A few possibilities: from Liquigas, I like Elia Viviani and Daniel Oss. Cancellara’s teammate Daniele Bennati has been showing good form, too; if he gets up the road and Cancellara is too heavily marked to get away, Bennati has a strong finish. Giovanni Visconti could get good support from his Movistar team, and if you want a rank outsider, Andrea Guardini ripped up the field at the Tour of Langkawi.

Finally, Thor Hushovd has traditionally done well at Milan-San Remo. His sights are clearly set on Paris-Roubaix, but he is good at getting up and over the final climb, and he still has good finishing power. With Philippe Gilbert coming down with a fever during the week, withdrawing early from Tirreno-Adriatico, and still not showing his best, the big Norwegian might be BMC’s best option.

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