Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Milan-Sanremo - preparations meet tactics meet luck

La classica di Primavera

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On Saturday the 103rd edition of the Milan-Sanremo will take place, a race often referred to as "la classica di Primavera". I wrote a post last year including some of the race history, you can find that here

As the Italian name suggests, Spring is finally here, at least in countries close to the Mediterranean. At 298 kilometres long, Milan-Sanremo is the longest race in the season, normally the longest races don't cap 280 kilometres, like the worlds. Some have criticized the race for being boring with the action only taking place the last 20 kilometres with the Cipressa and Poggio as the ultimate pinnacles the riders deal with. I see this as a beautiful race going through a nice part of Italy. However, I can relate to the fact that the race is on fire the last 30 kms.

One for the sprinters?
The race is also called sprinters' classic but I find the race as not always living up to this name. It is difficult to pinpoint one single reason for this but 298 kilometres is very demanding any day of the week, not to mention this early in the season. The distance makes even the smallest climb difficult, which is why the Cipressa and/or Poggio often determine the winner or at least define the decisive break. Normally, the fastest sprinters doesn't win. Actually I don't like this term, as the fastest guy is the one to cross the finish line first, right? The ones who have prepared the best as well as being lucky, will be there in the final. Often those two go hand in hand, just read what Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer, said about luck:

"Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck."

Wide open for the opportunists
As I often repeat it is impossible to predict the future and guessing the winner is difficult. It is easy to name ten-fifteen riders who can be among the winners on a given day, but that does not impress anyone right? So let me just name some of the riders I expect to rock the race, and quite frankly, I see them all up there. But remember, this is racing and anything can happen. Last year Hushovd was in great shape but found himself caught behind a crash just before the Cipressa. I guess he won't be that far back on Saturday.

Ready for the long haul?

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I have narrowed it down to these five riders. There are many more, but what fun is it to mention they all? The list is based on form, capacity and former achievements. Of course, choice of tactic play a part here too.

Peter Sagan
Edvald Boasson Hagen
Oscar Freire
Fabian Cancellara
Tom Boonen

Tactics and strategy
How do you control all the different outcomes in a 298 km long race?

Normally a break takes off early, often gaining a significant lead. One thing is certain though, the ones in that breakaway will never make it to the finish line first. This Monument in cycling is so prestiguos to win that teams have brought their very best hoping to win, making sure a breakaway will not survive. The ones in this breakaway will be riders from teams getting a wildcard, who will honour the sponsors as well as the race itself by being in the front. Teams with a favourite might also sneak in a rider or two as well, for two reasons. 1) having an exuse not to use strength rallying the break in later 2) the possibility of having a rider up there who can provide cover if the lead man comes up or just to be a free asset.

The last 30 kms - who will be the strongest?

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Watch closely 10-15 kilometres or so prior to the Cipressa, riders slip backwards to get bottles and food from team cars, as well as receiving final advice/orders from the DSs. Some riders will try to help their leaders to the front in hope to avoid any chaos that might occure in the peloton. The sprinters will fight for their lives to stay near the front, to avoid sliding too far back on the climb. All this while the riders who picked up fluids and food try to make their way to the front to support to their leaders with some crucial food or drinks. The pro teams have own nutrition experts, like Team Sky's Nigel Mitchell, who have sorted a menu suited to each rider on every step of the way.
We'll have the usual attack on the Cipressa or the Poggio by Nibali and Garzelli or other punchy riders. In addition to this, the Italians will try to snatch a win on home soil. Count among them Pettachi, Viviani (evil tongues will say Sagan will ride him in like Nibali if he can) and Sacha Modolo, remember his 4th place last year?

Radioshack-Nissan could use Italian star Bennati or Fabian for a late attack whilst BMC could do the same with GVA or Gilbert.

The first of cycling's five monuments is here, and the strong men will battle it out. I'm excited to see how the different teams play their tactics. Having just one egg in the basket can bring a devostating result as the peloton is tired, teams not all that organised this early and everybody wants to secure a place in the spotlight. We will see if Roald Amundsen's words is valid still on Saturday.

Let's have a look at the frenzy in the last kilometres Milan-Sanremo 2011 where Matt Goss won.

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