"La Primavera", the season's first Monument, will celebrate this year its 107th edition, and we are going there with a strong and balanced team.
The longest one-day race in the calendar, totaling a whopping 291 kilometers, will take place on Saturday, March 19th, when 200 riders will leave from Milan's via della Chiesa Rossa and head to Liguria. After more than 140 kilometers from the start, the riders will face the day's first climb, the mythical Passo del Turchino, which served many times as a springboard to victory in the romantic age of cycling. In present times, Turchino isn't decisive, but it will sure take the sting out of some riders' legs, as they will go up for around 25 kilometers. After cresting it, the race will ease up again, that is until the final 90 kilometers, when the peloton will tackle Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta.
Still, the first real difficulty of the day will come much later, inside the last 27 kilometers, with Cipressa (5 km, 4.1% average), an ascent which could see attacks or an upping of the pace in an attempt of some teams to leave the sprinters behind. If this won't work, another opportunity will come on the famous Poggio, the 4-km long climb which tops less than 6 kilometers off the finish line. A fast and furious descent follows next, where the attackers can put pressure on their rivals and drop them, before the arrival on Via Roma, a boulevard which, unlike Lungomare Italo Calvino, comes one kilometer closer to the Poggio, offering an advantage to those willing to take risks on the downhill.
13 years after making his debut in "La Classicissima", Tom Boonen will return at the start of the race which saw him finish twice on the podium (2007 and 2010), this year's Milan-Sanremo marking the 37th career start in a Monument for the former world champion. Joining him will be Gianluca Brambilla, neo-pro Fernando Gaviria, Fabio Sabatini, Zdenek Stybar, Matteo Trentin, Stijn Vandenbergh and Julien Vermote, thus giving Etixx – Quick-Step an all-rounded team for the Italian event.
"Milan-Sanremo is the first big one-day race of the year, and also the longest and most difficult to win. The parcours is the classic one, but it still is a lottery, the final being always tough to predict. There are many contenders for the victory, riders who've shown in France and Italy that they are in very good form. I'm thinking here of Michael Matthews, Alexander Kristoff, Fabian Cancellara, Greg Van Avermaet, Peter Sagan or Edvald Boasson Hagen", said sport director Davide Bramati, before talking of the team's approach to the maiden Monument of the season: "We have a great group of riders, who came out of Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico in good condition and ready to face this 300-km long event. We are not the favourites for the win, but we'll see what we can do depending on how things will go, and you can be sure of the fact that we will play a role during the race. Our main goal is to be there and get the maximum out of it."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele