Milan-Sanremo’18: The PEZ Preview!
Primavera Preview: Back in 2008 Ed Hood lived the dream and followed the whole of the Primavera in the Saunier Duval team car; below he takes us from the chill of Milano, across the plains, over the Turchino, along the Ligurian Riviera, over the Capi, Cipressa and Poggio to the mellow climes of Sanremo before looking at who PEZ thinks will triumph on the Via Roma late on Saturday afternoon.
The sprint for the 2017 win
Living the dream, writing about bike racing?
Sometimes. . .
It’s early on a bright but chilly Saturday morning a decade ago at the historic Castello in Milano and this is the centre of the entire Cycling world. The count down to the start of ‘The Primavera,’ the race of ‘Springtime,’ Milan-Sanremo, the first Monument and a race most Italians place above the Worlds in terms of races they’d want to win.
A young Phil Gil is here, chatting to Eurosport’s Jacky Durand, fortunately the latter has dropped the bandana for his new role.
And real cycling royalty, L’Equipe’s ‘special envoy’ Philippe Brunel, as always in his Johnny Cash all-black rig, cool? My idol.
Erik Zabel is there, chewing the fat with Rolf Aldag; the German fast man has won his last Primavera but he’s still a presence and looks damn sharp.
But the best bit about this day? I have a one way ticket to Sanremo aboard the Saunier Duval team car with Andrea and Pietro – if I’m not the luckiest man alive then I must be close.
‘Wagons roll,’ it’s neutralised out of the city and the biggest names drift past the car, like former Italian champion, Enrico Gasparotto; ‘ciao Gaspa!’
The first thing I learn from my hosts is that we ain’t gonna starve on this gig. The soigneurs have made us foil wrapped sandwiches but as we float across the plains of northern Italy we stop frequently at the best takeaway pizza slices joints and ice cream parlours then glide back up the convoy munching our spoils. I could get used to this.
Just like in all the reports you’ve read, the break drifts away but back in the peloton it’s ‘tranquillo’ as the boys stop to answer the call of nature.
Whilst the speedo hovers in the high 40 kph zone the mood is relaxed and riders drift back to the car for a chat; here it’s tall, handsome Eros Capecchi who does the gossip thing – the Italian is still in the peloton with Quick-Step.
Manuele Mori punctures, no drama, a relaxed change and he’s back on his way – Mori too is still on the World Tour, with UAE.
After the long run across the plains the Turchino Pass shortens the horizon and makes the views more interesting but in the car one would hardly be aware of it and the peloton doesn’t miss a beat as we head into the second act of this huge operatic production. ‘The Plains’ were act one, act two is, ‘The Ligurian Riviera.’
The first glimpse of the Ligurian Sea raises your pulse, it’s impossibly blue and those images you’ve seen in the magazines and on TV are now your reality – I should pinch myself. But the mood of the race and in the car changes from relaxed to business-like and just a little tense. Around us riders strip off their cold weather gear, this is where the race proper begins. This wouldn’t be Gerard Ciolek’s day but his time would come in 2013 on a day where only the hardest survived the snow.
Things start to get crazy as the speed ramps up and riders come back to the car in all sorts of unsuitable places, usually at warp speed – this particular disrobing took place in a tunnel.
Punctures most definitely are a problem now and there’s no ‘relaxed’ change – the wheel goes in a darn sight quicker than it did up on the plains.
The speed on the coast road is rapid with the team cars jostling for position so as to be best placed for their boys – it’s not for the faint hearted.
That year the percorso included another climb, La Manie off the coast road, not so far from Genoa. It was introduced to make life harder for the sprinters – ask Cav about that – and goes up then almost straight back down. It was a nasty jag and the break began to crumble, ‘our man’ in the escape, big Latvian ‘chronoman’ Raivis Belohvosciks goes backwards past the team car so fast I don’t get a chance to photograph him – but I did snap Francesco Tizza as his ‘hours in the sun’ came to an end.
The percorso along the Riviera really is beautiful but the riders don’t get much chance to enjoy it as the race hurtles westward in a series of huge spurts. There’s no sense of this watching on TV but it’s not smooth progress, there are huge accelerations then phases where it eases and the stragglers get back on – but by the time they do the riders at the front have emptied their bottle, squeezed their gels, eaten their rolls and the whole process repeats.
Despite the speed and dangers of road furniture, the Italian radio guys must get their interviews with the DS’s in the cars – wild stuff.
The speed is ‘on’ all the time now and I don’t even notice the three ‘capi’ of Mele, Cervo and Berta in the car but guys going backwards past us tells me that legs used to finishing most races an hour ago are saying, ‘enough!’
On the Cipressa climb we’re so tightly held in the convoy there are very few photo opportunities – and none on the descent as I hang on for dear life. The coast road again and it’s like a video game speeded up; Pietro hauls the wheel to the right and we’re on the Poggio.
In the car it doesn’t seen that bad but coming where it does after all those kilometres, it’s a killer.
I manage to grab a picture or two on the descent but most of the time I’m hanging on as we fly round those hairpins. The descent bottoms out, the little TV on the dash tells us that Cancellara has won from Pippo and Phil Gil; the car is quiet, the disappointment hangs in the air. We take the deviation into the team parking, out of the car, handshakes – did that really happen?
The crazy Tifosi
Memory Lane duly strolled down and percorso discussed, the $64,000 question, who’s gonna win the 109th Primavera? We could do worse than go back to last year’s top 10 finishers:
10: Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott & Australia) the bookies say 20/1, that says it all, he’s quick but we don’t see him as robust enough to win on the Via Roma.
9: Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors & Italy) has been as high as 33/1 but we think he’s a good each way bet, he has five wins this year and as an Italian that extra motivation to win.
8: Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis & France) didn’t figure with the bookies we checked but he likes this race, has placed in the top 10 and more than once and is crazy enough to take all the risks.
7: John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo & Germany), a former winner of Milan-Sanremo in 2015, will not ride. The German abandoned Paris-Nice with bronchitis with the hope he would recover in time for the first monument this weekend. However, Degenkolb still suffers from the illness and today announced he would not be well enough to race Saturday: “It is with a heavy heart I have to cancel my start at Milan-Sanremo as I am still fighting this sickness and wouldn’t be fit for the Primavera. I am feeling already better in the last days and will be back on my bike soon. So, no worries for the rest of the classics season. I wish my team the best for Saturday.”
6: Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ & France) is at 10/1 despite his stage win in Paris-Nice, we don’t think so.
5: Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors & Colombia) will be DNS due to a broken hand – a pity.
4: Alex Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates & Norway) is at 8/1 and is another man who’s won here before, robust and fast he’ll be the one to watch if it’s the forecast nasty weather.
3: Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors & France) is at 16/1 and we don’t think he can repeat last year’s podium.
2: Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe & Slovakia) is William Hill [9/4] and our favourite to win; he’ll get over the hills without a problem and in Tirreno was rapid in the sprints. Despite the fact that he’ll be heavily marked we see him as the winner.
1: Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky & Poland) is at 6/1; you don’t win Tirreno if you’re not on form.
We believe it could come down to another Kwiato/Sagan shoot out.
Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin & Germany) won’t get over the Cipressa; 50/1 says it all.
Michael Matthews (Sunweb & Australia) is at 15/1; he was third here a few years ago but that year he’d been round Paris-Nice, to win this race with no race legs is nigh on impossible.
Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo & The Netherlands) is at 50/1 and we think a very good bet. He has five wins this year, including Kuurne; does he still have that speed in his legs after 300 kilometres? We asked that same question of Cav a few years ago. . .
It’s set to be rainy and windy, so one for the hard men – just as long as it doesn’t snow. . .
Heavy snow during the 2013 Milan-Sanremo
# PEZ race report on Saturday and the best photos in the ‘Photo Gallery’, plus more news in EUROTRASH Monday. For live action go to steephill.tv. #
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,600 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.