Sanremo Race Preview: Ed Hood has a dozen (well, thirteen) questions concerning the 2020 Milano-Sanremo; La Classicissima di Primavera… in August? Is one of them. The restructured UCI WorldTour season kicked off with a stunning Strade Bianche last Saturday, next up – Milano-Sanremo.
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Snow is unlikely
# Can we still call it the ‘Primavera?’
Since the word means ‘springtime’ in Italian, it’s debatable. We can however we can still call it the ‘Classicissima’ – ‘the Classic of all Classics.’
The last time we say summer weather in San Remo was at the Giro start in 2015.
# Will it still be one of the greatest single day races on earth?
Of course! This will be edition 111 and despite the revised perscorso – more of which later – it still does exactly what it says on the tin running from the industrial greyness of Milano to the Liguarian pastels of the lovely ‘City of Flowers’, Sanremo.
World champ Felice Gimondi – Sanremo 1974
The roll of honour includes most of the great riders in history, in ‘my’ time alone: Merckx, De Vlaeminck, Gimondi, Raas, Moser, Kelly, Fignon, Cipollini, Cancellara, Nibali – and prior to that, post war: Coppi, Bartali, Van Steenbergen, Van Looy and Simpson. And ask most Italian riders; ‘Worlds or Primavera on your palmarés?’ and they’ll come down in favour of the latter.
Not many sea views in 2020
# Will the change in percorso affect the way the race is run?
The mayors of several coastal towns have stated that they don’t want the race on their patch, presumably to avoid gatherings and possible fresh ‘Covid clusters’ – were this to happen on their patch then they’d be censured for allowing the race to pass.
More inland than usually
Therefore, out goes the Turchino Pass, much of the Liguarian traverse and the three ‘Capi’ on the coast road – BUT the finale with Cipressa and Poggio remains unchanged. The Turchino – these days not a ‘race maker’ – may be out but in come two new and significant ascents; Niella Belbo after around 160K which rises to 785 metres and Colle Di Nava after around 230K which rises to 936 metres.
The new profile
Since the break will certainly already have gone on the Plains outside of Milano we’ll see ‘bridging’ moves on these climbs, neither of which could be called, ‘savage’. But since the altimetry is almost all downhill of the latter climb to the coast and the Cipressa, the ‘real’ start of the race it’s hard to imagine a finale where the closing moments of last act are not played out on the Poggio. Particularly with so many sprint teams having an interest in keeping it ‘compatto’ all the way to the red kite.
Cipressa and Poggio
# So it’s still all about from the bottom of the Poggio to the finish then?
Yes, you have to go back a long way before you come across an edition which wasn’t decided on either the ascent or descent of the Poggio or the Via Roma.
# Will the change in date affect the outcome?
Possibly. The players are all professionals but also all human beings; some will have handled the months without competition and ‘Zwift’ sessions better than others – Saturday will reveal the truth, there’s no scope for bluffing after 300K.
Six men at work
# What about the six man teams?
Despite the DS’s and men with a ‘one’ in their number moaning, it won’t really change anything, 300K is 300K however many team mates you have.
Kwiatkowski, Nibali and Alaphilippe – Three different Sanremo winners
# Will it end in a mass sprint?
Possibly, but in the last three years we’ve seen Kwiatkowski win from a small group, Nibali win solo and Alaphilippe win from a select group so it’s by no means certain. As we say above the ‘pure’ sprinters teams will be trying to keep it together but it depends on how much work they’ve have to do pre-Poggio with many simply unable to cope with the warp speeds up past all those greenhouses.
Who will join Stuyven, Asgreen and Van Aert on the 2020 honours roll?
# New wave or old guard?
In this strangest of seasons we’ve seen the biggest one day jousts go to Jasper Stuyven (28) [Trek Segafredo and Belgium] in Het Nieuwsblad; Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne go to Kasper Asgreen [Deceuninck – Quick-Step and Denmark] (25) and the Strade Bianche go to Wout van Aert [Team Jumbo-Visma and Belgium] (25). This trend is set to continue in Sanremo with names like the three above, Michael Matthews [Team Sunweb and Australia] (29), Mathieu Van Der Poel [Alpecin-Fenix] (25) and Tadej Pogačar [UAE Team Emirates and Slovenia] (21) all possible podium picks.
Never say never – Peter Sagan
And never to be written off, Peter Sagan [Bora-hansgrohe and Slovakia] at 30 years-of-age is hardly pensionable nor is last year’s winner Julian Alaphilippe [Deceuninck – Quick-Step and France] still in only 28 years-old.
Route d’Occitanie stage winner – Sonny Colbrelli
# Who’s dreaming?
The Italian sprinters would all garrotte their Granny to win this one and Messrs. Sonny Colbrelli [Bahrain-McLaren] and Giacomo Nizzolo [NTT] will be dreaming big after the former’s stage win in the Route d’Occitanie as will the latter with podiums in a Burgos stage and in the Circuito de Getxo but it’s not going to happen.
And what of Philippe Gilbert’s [Lotto Soudal and Belgium] dream of matching Rik Van Looy, Roger de Vlaeminck and Eddy Merckx as having won all five Monuments? It won’t come to pass, there are too many younger men with big ambitions to allow it.
Marc Gomez swooped past a fallen Alan Bondue for the 1982 win in Sanremo
# Will we see a ‘surprise’ winner?
Unlikely, in my time, the only ‘surprise’ winner was perhaps Marc Gomez of France way back in 1982.
Colombo in ’96
Please don’t say; ‘the Italian, Gabriele Colombo in 1996,’ he was flying early season that year and had already won the Giro di Calabria – and he was on the Gewiss-Ballan team which might have helped too.
Gerald Ciolek 2013
Nor should we include Gerald Ciolek who won the snow-afflicted 2013 edition; he was a man who beat Erik Zabel to the German championship as an u23 rider, was World u23 Champion and in ’13 was flying early season with high finishes in Tirreno and the Three days of West Flanders – here at PEZ we certainly tipped him that year.
Fernando Gaviria – Win in Burgos
# Could we see a new nation enter the roll of honour?
That IS possible, as well as aforementioned Messrs. Pogačar and Sagan from Slovenia and Slovakia respectively there’s a certain 25 years-old Colombian Fernando Gaviria [UAE Team Emirates] who has three stage wins in San Juan and one in Burgos to his name in 2020 – on his day he is one of the very fastest around.
# Who else if it comes down to a sprint?
We like Nacer Bouhani [Team Arkea Samsic and France], he’s a throwback to when all the fast men were a little crazy. He was back to winning ways in Saudi and Provence before things ground to a halt – we also like that he was down on the Poggio several weeks back practicing the finale. And don’t forget that he was well ‘there’ until a failed transmission scuppered his hopes a year or two back.
Démare on the inside
Another Frenchman, Arnaud Démare [Groupama FDJ] has won this race, he’s a prolific winner, had two podiums recently in Burgos and will be there on Saturday if it comes to a mass charge.
Sam Bennett – Win in Burgos last week
Sam Bennett [Deceuninck – Quick-Step and Ireland] started the season in fine style, winning Down Under then in the 1.1 Race Torquay in Oz and has kept in shape over Covid with a fine stage win in Burgos.
# I know you said there’ll be no ‘surprise’ winner but who’s your last word name to conjure with?
Max Schachmann [Bora-hansgrohe and Germany] he could well make it eight German winners. . .
Keep it PEZ for loads from Milan-Sanremo with the Race Report on Saturday and live race action at SteepHillTV.
The Best Moments of the Milan – San Remo from 2015 to 2019 by inCycle