BREAKDOWN: Sanremo Takeaways – Should ‘Cav’ Be There?

Ten Mid-Week Takeaways: With Saturday’s first monument of the season, Milano-Sanremo, on the horizon, Spencer Martin gives us his ‘Ten Takeaways’ before the ‘La Classicissima’. And, after his Milano-Torino win, is Mark Cavendish the best sprinter at Quick-Step?

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Watch the most comprehensive live & ad-free coverage of Milano-Sanremo 2022 on GCN+. Go deeper and get interactive with live polls & quizzes, plus rider profiles, race updates, results & more – plus stream original and exclusive cycling documentaries. Watch it all with GCN+ on any device.

Is Mark Cavendish the best sprinter at Quick-Step?

  • Plus, a few things to ponder as we approach the season’s first Monument.

Milano-Torino win for Cavendish on Wednesday

As settle into our rest period between the conclusion of the two real opening stage races of the season in Paris-Nice/Tirreno–Adriatico and the first one-day Monument with Milano-Sanremo, it is a good time to take a pause and go through what we’ve learned over the past week and what to watch out for as we head into the first major one-day Classic of the season.

Milano-Torino, the one-day palate cleanser before the main courses of the opening stage races and Milano-Sanremo, debuted a new sprinter-friendly course earlier today which gave winner Mark Cavendish yet another opportunity to showcase his fantastic form and build his case for why he should be considered for a spot on his Quick-Step team’s Tour de France squad.

While it was fun to watch Cavendish and his Quick-Step team put on a sprint clinic, the race had a distinct geriatric feel and didn’t give us much to chew on with 30-something Peter Sagan, Alexander Kristoff, Edvald Boasson Hagen, and Greg Van Avermaet the only major Sanremo contenders to grace the race with their presence.

Milano-Torino 2022 – Mark Cavendish No.159 pro career win

1) Quick-Step and Mark Cavendish worked over the rest of the field with old-school tactics

  • The team was able to dominate the final kilometer without touching the front.
  • As soon as they came around the stalling Arkéa–Samsic duo, it was game over for Bouhanni and Sagan.
  • This is a great example of their superiority in the tactical battle of sprints even while lacking their A-team.

5th for Peter Sagan in Torino

2) Peter Sagan is not back

  • The three-time World Champion is only 32-years-old, but he looked ancient while being worked over in the final kilometer of a sprint he would have won with his eyes closed as recently as 2018.
  • While we can cut him some slack due to his seemingly-endless series of illnesses, what stuck out to me at Milano-Torino was that his mistake was mental, not physical.
  • Don’t expect him to get his magic back on Saturday at Milano-Sanremo.

Still uphill for ‘Cav’

3) Cavendish is riding well, but still has an uphill climb to a start at the Tour de France

  • Make no mistake, this win was impressive and is a nice addition to Cavendish’s Tour de France resume.
  • But, before we start penciling him in for the Tour de France, remember that the competition level here was not particularly high. Beating Nacer Bouhanni and Alexander Kristoff is nice, but nobody would consider these top-tier sprinters.
  • To win at the Tour, he’d have to beat much faster riders.

Mark Cavendish just pipped Heinrich Haussler on the line in 2009

4) Milano-Sanremo is no longer the Sprinter’s Classic

  • While Cavendish won Sanremo back in 2009, a lot has changed about the race, and in the sport as a whole, since then.
  • Increasing peloton speeds and race intensities mean the traditional bunch sprint is slowly disappearing and being replaced with select bunch sprints contested by the new wave of hybrid sprinters/climbers like Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel, Tom Pidcock, Jasper Stuyven Mads Pedersen, etc.
  • Caleb Ewan proved in 2021 that it is possible for a pure sprinter to get up and over the Poggio, but the extreme speeds meant that he was isolated on the flat run-in to the finish and susceptible to attacks.

Long range attack from Pogačar on Saturday?

5) Be skeptical of hype around the possibility of the long-range Pogačar attack

  • The current form of Tadej Pogačar has allowed rampant speculation that the two-time Tour de France champion will attack on the Cipressa or even the Turchino, and simply ride away from the rest.
  • However, long-range attacks at Sanremo are extremely rare and haven’t actually occurred once in the modern era. We have to go back to 1996 to find a winner, Gabriele Colombo, who went clear on the Cipressa with roughly 30km remaining, and back to 1991 when Claudio Chiappucci won after going clear on the Turchino pass with 140km to go.
  • In modern racing, the peloton’s speed between the coastal climbs preceding the final ascent of the Poggio is simply too high for a lone rider to overcome.
  • If Pogačar wants to win on Saturday, he will have to do it with deft positioning prior to the Poggio and follow attacks until he is nearly at the top of the climb and then ace the descent to hold off the chasing pack (See: Vincenzo Nibali in 2018).

Nibali held the others off into Sanremo

6) While Pogačar seems unstoppable at the moment, don’t sleep on Wout van Aert

  • Milano-Sanremo is one of the hardest races to win due to its lottery nature once the front group hits the Via Roma, but there is no rider more physically aligned with the course than Van Aert since he can climb, sprint, and solo better than all but the most specialized riders.
  • If he can replicate his performance from Sunday’s stage 8 at Paris-Nice, it is difficult to imagine anyone beating him.

Van Aert missed out in 2021

7) Van Aert has learned from his 2021 mistakes

  • From a purely physical aspect, Van Aert’s ride to finish a relatively close second place overall to Pogačar at last year’s Tirreno–Adriatico was more physically impressive than his very metered riding at the recent Paris-Nice.
  • But the fact that he chose to take it easy and seemed to have an eye on races later this Spring left me more optimistic about his chances at the major Monuments than I was at this point last year.
  • To highlight just how fit he is at the moment, he set the pace for the final 50kms of the hardest stage of Paris-Nice and evenly matched Simon Yates on an incredibly steep climb during one of Yates’ best career performances while out on a training ride.

Evenepoel – Disappointing?

8) The youth movement has stumbled

  • The last week of racing has generated a resurgence for the sport’s elder statements while, outside of Tadej Pogačar, most of the sport’s young up-and-comers have been humbled.
  • The young stars many expected to storm the Spring season, like Remco Evenepoel and Tom Pidcock have either struggled due to lack of fitness (Evenepoel) or illness (Pidcock).
  • This has left the door open for older, and somewhat forgotten riders, like Simon Yates, Warren Barguil, Christophe Laporte to shine.
  • Expect this trend to carry on for a few more months, and for under-the-radar riders like Anthony Turgis to outperform the younger stars.

Pogačar – Unbeatable

9) A deeper reading of the Roglič/Pogačar Tour de France proxy battle

  • A lot has been made of Primož Roglič’s ‘collapse’ on Sunday’s stage 8 at Paris-Nice and Tadej Pogačar’s absolute dominance of the field on Saturday’s stage 6 at Tirreno–Adriatico and how it indicates that not even Roglič has the chance to beat Pogačar come the Tour de France in July.
  • However, looks can prove to be deceiving once we contextualize these performances:
    • While Pogačar came into the season extremely fit in order to have a chance at winning his ‘home’ UAE Tour, Strade, and Milano-Sanremo, Roglič has started the season much slower with Paris-Nice at his first major objective before building via training camps for the Ardennes classics.
    • And while Roglič appeared to struggle towards the end of Paris-Nice, another way to frame his climb of the Col d’Eze following Simon Yates’ attack is that he showed maturity by not panicking and staying with Wout van Aert knowing Yates would need over a minute at the summit to have a chance at taking the overall win.
    • Also, when we compare his effort chasing Yates, it is almost identical to Pogačar’s dominant climb on Saturday at Tirreno. Roglič generated roughly 6.4 watts per kilo (420 watts) for the 17-minute long climb while Pogačar’s put out 6.50 watts per kilo (429 watts) for the 20-minute final climb at Tirreno.
    • In short, another way to frame Roglič’s win is that he was able to weather the best performance of Simon Yates’ career while Yates is riding to peak for May and Roglič is slowly building for a late July peak.

Jumbo-Visma domination on Paris-Nice stage 1

10) Jumbo-Visma has perfected the rotating domestique strategy

  • One of the major reasons Roglič was able to win Paris-Nice was the presence of Wout van Aert in the finale of the final stage, and this was likely only made possible due to Jumbo ‘saving’ Van Aert by having him drop himself on mountain stages earlier in the race. Not only is this advantageous for Van Aert’s performances later this Spring, but it also helped the team since he was able to save energy while Roglič was strong for the moment when Roglič was weakest.
  • Sky refined this ‘technology’ during the Fortress Froome era of the mid-2010s, and while they had their fair share of super domestique, Jumbo-Visma is advancing the form by using what is perhaps the sports most versatile and talented rider, Van Aert, as a supercharged teammate to weld the race back together when it would be completely shattered otherwise.
  • If they can get Van Aert to buy on a similar strategy at the Tour de France, this luxury will make them difficult to beat, even for the seemingly unstoppable Pogačar.

‘Cav’ was his usual happy self before Milano-Torino

# See the ‘PEZ 2022 Sanremo Preview’ HERE and keep it PEZ for the ‘Race Report’ on Saturday and all the Sanremo news in EUROTRASH Monday. #

# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #

Watch the most comprehensive live & ad-free coverage of Milano-Sanremo 2022 on GCN+. Go deeper and get interactive with live polls & quizzes, plus rider profiles, race updates, results & more – plus stream original and exclusive cycling documentaries. Watch it all with GCN+ on any device.

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