WORDS: NICK CHRISTIAN | PHOTOS: PRESSESPORTS/CHRIS AULD/RCS
After the success of Top Mañana and Tomorrow’s Worlds, we’ve expanded the franchise of our popular race prediction game to cover all men’s and women’s WorldTour races throughout 2020.
The Rouleur team will be spending hours each week poring over form guides, weather forecasts and stages profiles, all in an inevitably fruitless attempt to give themselves some sort of edge over their rivals.
After last weekend's terrific Tours of Tuscany, which saw three of our panel correctly pick the women's winner but only one the men's, we head east to Lombardy for Milan-Sanremo. Long seen as the sprinter's Monument, it's been a few years since one of the fastmen prevailed. Have times changed for good or will normal service be resumed?
The eagle-eyed among you will note the dissimilarity between this profile and the one the race usually rolls along. Reportedly due to objections from the mayors of towns through which it was originally due to pass, instead of making a beeline for the coast, La Classicissima will remain inland for the first 250km, arriving by the sea only fifteen minutes or so before the foot of the Cipressa.
That only adds an extra 8400 horizontal metres but, more meaningfully, means a whopping 700m (46%) more vertically. Factor in the higher temperatures and the fact that teams have been reduced by one rider to six - to allow for two more local teams to be invited - and its hard to picture this one finishing in a sprint. Or is it?
The Rouleur panel's predictions
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe)
Hard to believe the triple world champion has not won in Sanremo. Nobody has been more consistent in recent years - bar Alexander Kristoff, possibly. Intrigued as I am by how the race’s youngest competitor will fare - Tadej Pogačar is not yet 22 - if the form is good (he was DNF at Strade Bianche) and his head’s in the game, it’s Sagan for me.
Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Ineos)
A week back into WorldTour racing, and the riders get slapped by a 299km Monument. Cycling calendar, what are you like? It's like being woken up by someone force-feeding you a 12-course meal. Throw in the tweaked route, and I think we might get an unexpected winner. Michał Kwiatkowski, step up for a second title. He's experienced, in decent form, has the endurance and equally handy on the attack over the Poggio or in a small group sprint. You (by you, I really mean Cycling Mole) might say that Kwiatkowski has done sod all since his last Sanremo title or that Team Ineos don't win big one-day races but, let's face it, stranger things have happened in 2020. All bets are off.
Matteo Trentin (CCC Team)
I don't see how, as some seem to be suggesting, this new course is more suited to the sprinters than the old one. An extra 700m of climbing, even if it is a bit more gradual than punchy, must put it out of reach of the purest power riders while bringing it even more into the zone of the likes of Trentin. And if ever there's a rider who ought to have a Monument on his mantlepiece it's him.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Ineos)
At Milan Sanremo, with a finish that will arguably suit him better, it's pretty hard to go against Wout Van Aert - the man whose hair always looks like he has just ridden Strade Bianche. He was so impressive in Italy, but I'm going to go for the guile of Michał Kwiatkowski to earn a repeat of his 2017 win. He's been thereabouts in the races so far and his stamina might make the difference in these confusing times.
Stuart J Clapp
Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal)
I’ve struggled with this one. I’m a romantic so I’d love to see Gilbert complete the full set of Monuments, a feeling I can only liken to when I completed the Return of the Jedi sticker album. Not once, but twice. I know, right? That took some doing. I know how hard it was to complete those sticker albums, which is why, as much as I’d like him to win, I’m going to have to go with teammate, Caleb Ewan.
Elia Viviani (Cofidis)
As the longest race on the calendar, it still surprises me that the sprinters thrive in MSR. Still, not wanting to buck that well trodden trend, and with the Italians' proven pedigree in this race, I've got to go with Viviani. Though he's not a previous winner and though the curve appears to be shifting towards the puncheurs, I'm betting Italian patriotism might be enough to secure the top step.Hear how the Cycling Mole thinks Saturday's going to go down in full below:
The Cycling Mole's verdict
300km in 30-degree heat, that doesn’t sound like a good idea. When trying to pick your winner for this race you have to decide if we get a sprint, or will the attacks on the Poggio stick? Given the heat, I think this will be a day for the attacks.
Looking at the picks, only Miles deserves a telling off. When was the last time Cofidis won a monument? I mean, Viviani still hasn’t won yet for them this season. Once the race goes over 250km, Viviani’s legs turn into toffee. This is a horrible selection, a waste of a pick. Stuart “The Joker” Clapp, agrees with Miles and also thinks we’ll get a sprint. If we do, Caleb is the obvious selection, but I just don’t see it happening this year. The rest of the guys are on the money, they’ve all selected riders who’ll be in the mix coming up Via Roma. Kwiato is a previous winner and always seems to go well here, a solid selection from Andy and Ben. Nick’s going a little left field with Trentin, he does have a reasonably chance, but he’s never won a big one before. Ian is hoping that Sagan can finally break his duck here, but he looked way off the pace last Saturday and I don’t see him turning it around in seven days.
What about me I hear you ask? As last week ended in a draw, with Nick, Miles, Stuart and myself all getting one winner I need to up my game. Form is key, so I’ll have to pick Wout Van Aert. He can win solo, and he can also win from a sprint, he ticks a lot of boxes for me.
Hear more from The Cycling Mole below with his Milan-Sanremo preview and betting tips. (Please gamble responsibly.)