In two days time, the adrenalized and much anticipated start to the spring Classics will kick off in Italy. On Sunday ORICA-GreenEDGE will line up in Milan to start the 298 kilometre journey to Sanremo. Milan-Sanremo, also known in Italy as La Primavera, is one of the five Monuments of cycling alongside the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Giro di Lombarida. These pillars of cycling are the oldest and most prestigious of the one-day races.
Last year the peloton faced heinous weather conditions that included snow and freezing temperatures, bringing several riders to tears alongside the road. Although Mother Natures isn’t predicted to be as cruel this year, RCS Sport has already been dealt one weather-related blow prior to the start. One month ago the race organisation had to make the disappointing call to remove the ascent to Pompeiana due to irreparable road damage caused by poor weather conditions. With the exclusion of the Pompeiana climb, all fingers point to a bunch kick in Sanremo.
“We’re going back to the old course from 2007,” said Sport Director Matt White. “History proves in the last 15-20 years up until 2008 that this is a race for the sprinters. Only twice has a breakaway succeeded – when Bettini won in 2003 and Colombo in 1996. Predominantly, it’s a bunch sprint on this course, and even more so if it’s raining.”
Organisers are facing another potential course change in the eleventh hour. Possible landslides around Sportorno have forced RCS to consider an alternative route for rider safety.
“In comparison to the removal of Pompeiana, this would be a minor change,” said White. “Whatever the change is exactly, it’s not going to impact the race so much as the removal of Pompeiana. The new climb will be small, not very long and a fair way from the finish.”
For ORICA-GreenEDGE, Milan-Sanremo is a very special race. Simon Gerrons captured a glorious and ‘monumental’ win for the Australian outfit in its inaugural year.
“Our objective is to put someone on the podium,” said White. “We’re bringing a team that is going to be very competitive. Simon is moving along well, and we’ll be leaving him for the Poggio in case there are moves similar to when he won two years ago. The rest of the guys will be supporting Michael Matthews throughout the day.”
The combination of wind and rain will be the biggest factors influencing the outcome in Sanremo. Headwinds will make it harder for a break to get away. Tailwinds mean a faster race and a better chance for riders to get away.
Wet roads, particularly on the descents of the Cipressa and Poggio, could cause splits in the bunch as the more courageous riders test the mettle of the peloton down the twisty roads. It will be difficult for any team to organise a chase as the fury is unleashed in the closing kilometres.
“The prediction on race day is rain,” noted White. “Rain at the start and possible rain at the final. It could be a wet Milan-Sanremo but it’s going to be a lot warmer than last year – 10°C at the start and 13-14° along the coast.”
“A wet Milan-Sanremo won’t impact the race too much at the start, but if it’s wet when they get down to the coast, it will have a big effect on how the race unfolds,” continued White. “It will slow the race down a lot. The riders can only go so fast along the coast as they whiz through those small towns before there are crashes. Rain will bring a lot of guys back in the race as the race will be a lot slower.”
On paper, Sanremo looks like it is the easiest race to win. In actuality, it is the hardest race to win and the easiest to lose. To win this race, a team must keep things under control from the start. Then in the final 100 kilometres, riders must be completely focused. As the race heats up on Turchino Pass, riders must be at the front not to win the race, but to ensure they don’t lose it.
“San Remo is a beautiful race where almost anything is possible,” says White. “With the race coming in at 300km, it’s all about conservation of energy as an individual and working together as a team. And about being in the right place at the right time.”
ORICA-GreenEDGE for Milan-Sanremo: