Preview: Your guide to the 2019 Milan-San Remo

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It’s time for the 110th edition of Milan-San Remo, the first of five Monuments for the 2019 season. Ahead of Saturday’s race we take you through the course, the riders to watch, and how “La Classicissima” might unfold.

The course

Milan-San Remo is the longest one-day race on the professional calendar — with a whopping 291km on the menu, the riders are up for roughly seven hours in the saddle.

The course heads south-south-west out of Milan towards the Mediterranean coast in what is a largely flat start to the race. The Passo del Turchino is a long, gradual climb that peaks after 142km and from there the riders descend towards the coast.

The race hits the Mediterranean after roughly 150km and from there heads southwest in the direction of San Remo. It’s a beautiful, twisting run down the coast and one that’s largely flat, at least until the last 55km.

There are five short climbs in the final 55km: the Capo Mele, Capo Cervo, Capo Berta, the Cipressa and finally the Poggio. The first three of those don’t tend to have too much impact on the race, but the final two — and especially the Poggio — are a different story.

The Cipressa is 5.7km long at 4.1% (max 9%) and peaks 21.5km from the finish line. The Poggio is 3.7km at 3.7% (max 8%) and tops out 5.4km from the finish. From the top of the Poggio it’s downhill for 3.2km then 2.2km of flat road to the finish in San Remo.

How it might unfold

Despite the five climbs in the closing kilometres of Milan-San Remo, this tends to be a race for the sprinters. It’s certainly the most sprinter-friendly of the five Monuments.

The race is normally won from a reduced peloton — a peloton that splits over the final climbs, and especially over the Poggio. A look at the last 10 editions shows that:

– Five editions were won from a group of between 25 and 34 riders.
– Two were won from a group of seven.
– Two were won from a group of three.
– Just one was won solo (Vincenzo Nibali, last year)

As Nibali showed with his amazing win in 2018, it is possible to get away from the bunch on the Poggio and hold on to the line, even if it is exceedingly difficult.

It’s also worth noting that while pure sprinters can win Milan-San Remo (e.g. Mark Cavendish in 2009 and Arnaud Demare in 2016), the race tends to favour more versatile sprinters — riders that can contend with the late climbs while still having a strong sprint at the finish (e.g. Michal Kwiatkowski in 2017, John Degenkolb in 2015).

Kwiatkowski won the 2017 Milan-San Remo in a three-up sprint against Peter Sagan and Julian Alaphilippe.

The most likely outcome for Saturday’s race is that a reduced bunch gets to the line and the winner is decided in a sprint. There’ll almost certainly be a big early breakaway but if past editions are anything to go by, the escape will be over before the decisive final climbs.

The contenders

Milan-San Remo tends to attract the best sprinters in the world but the list of favourites for Saturday’s race comprises more than just sprinters. Here are the riders we think you should watch out for:

Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) – Alaphilippe is arguably the most versatile rider in the men’s peloton at the moment. His six wins so far this year (the most of any rider) have come from time trials, uphill finishes, reduced bunch sprints and, as of this past weekend at Tirreno-Adriatico, even bigger bunch sprints. He’s also done well in San Remo before, coming third from the winning move in 2017, only being beaten by Kwiatkowski and Peter Sagan in the three-up sprint.

It all puts the Frenchman in terrific stead for Saturday and he’ll start as one of the five-star favourites.

Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep) – As if Alaphilippe wasn’t a strong enough option for Deceuninck-QuickStep, the Belgian squad also has the best sprinter of the past 18 months on the startlist.

Viviani desperately wants to win San Remo and he’s got the form to do it. He’s got four wins for the year — all at WorldTour level — and few are faster in a bunch sprint. While Alaphilippe might be tempted to use the Poggio as a late springboard (and let’s not forget about Philippe Gilbert and Zdenek Stybar), Viviani will likely wait for the bunch kick. Regardless of how the race ends, Deceuninck-QuickStep is well positioned to continue its stellar start to Classics season.

In Viviani and Alaphilippe, Deceuninck-QuickStep has a great shot at winning Milan-San Remo.

Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) – Ewan won the bunch sprint for second last year — an excellent result and one that will give him great confidence coming into Saturday. Unfortunately a crash on stage 6 of Paris-Nice wasn’t the ideal lead-in for the Aussie sprinter who has built his early season around Milan-San Remo.

Assuming he’s not still feeling the effects of that crash, Ewan should be a factor. You can bet his Lotto-Soudal teammates will give it everything to ensure no one gets away over the Poggio this year …

Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) – Being told he won’t race the Giro d’Italia this year doesn’t seem to have hurt the Irishman’s sprinting. In fact, he’s had his best-ever start to a season with four wins already, including two at Paris-Nice and one at the UAE Tour, both against quality fields.

Bennett hasn’t performed overly well at Milan-San Remo in the past — his best is 66th — but on current form he’s a real contender. His biggest challenge will likely come in the form of the Poggio. If he can get over that in the front group, watch out.

Bennett has started 2019 in great fashion, winning two stages at Paris-Nice.

Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) – The Dutchman is another rider with four wins for the year already and with two of those being at the hotly contested Paris-Nice, his current form is beyond doubt.

He says he’s going to Milan-San Remo with few expectations — he’s on debut and has bigger targets later in the year — but if Groenewegen can get over the Poggio in the front group, he’ll certainly be among the favourites.

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) – The three-time world champion hasn’t had his best start to a season but we’re not silly enough to write him off for Milan-San Remo. On his day there’s no one more talented in the pro peloton and a win for Sagan on Saturday wouldn’t be a shock in the slightest.

The Slovak has been second twice and has finished in the top 10 on six of his eight appearances. That sort of consistency is hard to match and it feels like a matter of time before Sagan adds a third Monument to his already swollen trophy cabinet.

Fernando Gaviria (UAE-Team Emirates) – Gaviria doesn’t bring his world-beating best form into Milan-San Remo. He does have three wins for the year but with only one WorldTour scalp among them (at the UAE Tour), he’s a touch behind some of his rivals.

But that mightn’t matter. One-day races are different to stage races, and racing nearly 300km is different to winning a sprint after 150km. Gaviria has performed well at Milan-San Remo too — he was fifth in 2017 and was probably the favourite with 2km to go in the 2016 edition before he crashed out.

Note that Gaviria is also likely to have former winner Alexander Kristoff on lead-out duties. The pair have combined well already this year and a win on Saturday is certainly a possibility.

Gaviria won a stage of the recent UAE Tour.

Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) – Take a look at Nibali’s results so far this year and you’d think a strong showing on Saturday is out of the question. But look at the same period before his win last year and you’ll notice a similarly lean patch.

As with Sagan, good results in the lead-up are almost irrelevant with a rider of Nibali’s class. Sure, he’d love to have won already this year but that will all be forgiven if he goes back-to-back on Saturday (no rider’s done that since Erik Zabel in 2000-1). To win, the Italian will need to get away solo again, probably on the Poggio. The fact he was allowed to get clear last year still boggles the mind. It’s hard to see the same thing happening again.

The outsiders

While the winner of Saturday’s race is likely to come from one of the riders mentioned above, they certainly aren’t the only ones with a shot at glory. Here are a handful of others who, if things fall into place, could be hoisting the trophy come Saturday afternoon.

Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) – On Saturday Trentin should get the chance to race Milan-San Remo as team leader for the first time. In truth he could be considered among the main contenders — he’s got a great sprint and he’s a proven performer on the big stage. He’ll need to get in a smallish group over the Poggio to win, or pull out the best sprint of his life to beat the pure sprinters.

Michael Matthews (Sunweb) – You wouldn’t say Matthews’ lead-in to Saturday’s race has been ideal. He’s done two race days this year and he crashed in both. Normally he’d be among the contenders (he’s been third and seventh in the past); this year he’s more of an outsider. A very versatile outsider who climbs well and has a strong sprint.

Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) – A surprise winner in 2016, Demare would again be an unlikely victor in 2019. He hasn’t shown nearly the same form as he did prior to his win three years ago, but that doesn’t mean he can’t win it again. The Poggio will probably be his biggest hurdle.

Demare winning the 2016 Milan-San Remo.

Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) – The punchy Frenchman is yet to win a race this year but his past performances at Milan-San Remo bring him into the conversation. He’s been fourth, sixth and eighth before and another top 10 is certainly possible.

For riders capable of getting away late and outfoxing the peloton, consider former U23 world champ Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida), Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and maybe even Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb). Other fast finishers include Sacha Modolo (EF Education First), Giacomo Nizzolo (Dimension Data), Greg Van Avermaet (CCC), John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott).

Gianni Moscon (Sky) could be dangerous from a small group, Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo) shouldn’t be given too much latitude late, and world champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is capable of just about anything.

Watching the race

Sadly for Australian fans there’s no free-to-air coverage of the 2019 Milan-San Remo but those with Foxtel can catch coverage live from 12:30am AEST on Sunday morning via Eurosport (Channel 511). and appear to be the best avenue for viewers in the US and Canada while Eurosport will have the broadcast in a whole bunch of markets worldwide.

As ever, be sure to check your local guides for the most up-to-date and relevant information.

Who’s your pick to win the 2019 Milan-San Remo? How will they win it? Let us know in the comments below.

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