Who will win La Primavera?
Milan-San Remo is one of the few one-day races which can give equal chances to the pure sprinters and the true Classics riders, depending on how it is raced and the conditions. Picking only 10 contenders from the list of 200 riders on the start line can be exceedingly difficult, but Cyclingnews does its best to narrow down the contenders.
Moreno Moser (Cannondale) - Should the seemingly impossible happen, and Peter Sagan not make the final selection off the Poggio, Cannondale have another superb option in the plucky Italian with a rich heritage in the sport. If the odds fall in Moser's favour on Sunday, it will be because the race has come down to a breakaway
Moser's victory in the Strade Bianche a fortnight ago well and truly signalled that the 22-year-old would be up for the task at Milan - San Remo. He admitted at the time that La Primavera, along with the Ardennes Classics would be his next targets. Moser will be one to watch should he be in the front group once the race hits the Cipressa.
Matt Goss (Orica GreenEdge) - When Goss won Milan-San Remo in 2011, it was also the first time that he finished the longest race of the season. A year later not quite the rider he had been 12 months prior, and after a two-week course of antibiotics, he was 15th. It's fair to say that this is a race that suits the Australian and despite having the defending champion in the GreenEdge ranks, will be the team's best option for the win.
Goss showed his form by winning Stage 2 of Tirreno-Adriatico and relishes the lead-up that the stage race provides for Sunday.
Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard) - The 2008 winner of Milan-San Remo has finished at runner-up the last two years running, and apart from his fourth at this year's Strade Bianche, as opposed to his win in 2011, the form of the RadioShack Leopard rider is not that much different. Where Cancellara does suggest is that he is lacking, however, is confidence given that he is without a win so far in 2013.
The 31-year-old was heavily marked by Cannondale during Strade Bianche but conceded he was happy with his form - whether he's made the gains necessary during Tirreno-Adriatico remains to be seen.
Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEdge) - The defending champion from Milan-San Remo had already signaled his intentions to enjoy a slower start to the year - with a heavy focus circled around the Ardennes classics but don't discount him completely.
Gerrans pulled out of Tirreno-Adriatico ahead of Stage 5 after reportedly suffering breathing problems similar to those encountered at the Tour Down Under in January, however, he remains on the eight-man squad for the first monument of the year. It's also worth remembering that despite being 'off' for most of Down Under he still managed to capture the final stage atop Willunga Hill. He'll be there to support Matt Goss in the predicted bunch sprint but also be able to play his own card in the right scenario presents itself.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) - The Manx Missile won his first and only monument back in 2009 and while many are hopeful that Cavendish can do it again, crashes and changes to the route have impeded him over the past three editions and effectively ruled him out from reaching the Poggio in a position to contest the win. He recently stated he "can't win Milan-San Remo" but his status as a former winner means he should not be completely forgotten.
Cavendish has notched five sprint victories already this season and appears to be in the form for the longest race of the year however, after failing to secure a win at Tirreno-Adriatico it remains to be seen if his new squad has the firepower to deliver the former winner to the line with the front group.
Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) - A bunch sprint victory at Paris-Nice, numerous top-10's and fifth overall at the 'Race to the Sun' marks the current French time trial champion as a real threat for Sunday's 298km race.
Chavanel has proven his worth in the cobbled classics of Belgium in the past but his current form suggests that the team will not rely purely on Cavendish or Tom Boonen in the finale. He has been more or less around the mark during his participations from 2009-2011 with his closest chance of success coming in the 2010 edition, where he finished in the front group after assisting Boonen to second-place behind Oscar Freire. Chavanel has demonstrated he's up to the task but his team may be willing to back its powerhouse sprinters Boonen and Cavendish instead.
Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) - An early start to the year in Australia and a steady stream of racing in the lead-up to Milan-San Remo secures the world road race champion spot amongst the favourites. Gilbert will be in good company for the race with teammates Thor Hushovd (3rd in 2009) and Greg Van Avermaet (9th in 2011) providing a number of cards to play.
He may have narrowly missed the chance to secure his first win of 2013 on a number of occasions already this season - most recently being outsprinted by Chavanel on Stage 6 at Paris-Nice - but he remains one of the most consistent finishers over the past five editions. His third-place in 2011 is the most significant sign that Gilbert has what it takes to make it safely over Le Manie and contest for victory.
Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) - A winner of San Remo in the earlier part of his career remains arguably the Italian's biggest victory to date. The 2006 winner has since finished on the podium in 2008 along with two years of consistent results. Fifth in 2011 and sixth last year should not be scoffed at but the 31-year-old will need the right mix of riders at the finish if he is to take another win.
After an up and down season in 2012 Pozzato will hope to continue his winning form at Sanremo after taking his first win of the year in the Italian one-day race Trofeo Laigueglia. He came close to another victory at the inaugural Roma Maxima and even threw his hands up to celebrate but he will need to be much more attentive if he is to cross the line in first-place.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) - The question seems not to be 'can Sagan win?' rather 'who can beat Sagan?' with the Slovakian powerhouse arguably the shortest price favourite in recent memory. Cannondale's two strong options certainly gives the team an upper hand and the cat-and-mouse game that is sure to ensue could just as easily work against the men in green.
Sagan heads into Milan-San Remo chasing his first Classics victory, having scored five wins so far this season, the most-recent head-to-head against Cavendish in a major confidence boost - not that he seems short of it.
Was Moser's win at Strade Bianche a favour to Sagan for the early work the Italian will do this Sunday? Perhaps... What is certain is that Sagan will be a major factor on Sunday.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) - For the second year in a row, Nibali heads into Milan-San Remo following overall victory in Tirreno-Adriatico. The task at hand in the Monument is to convert third place into first and while the Astana recruit is confident, he knows he's going to have to turn some serious heat on former teammate Sagan.
Nibali will be calling on serious workhorses Fredrik Kessiakoff, Francesco Gavazzi, and Maxim Iglinsky who could be another option for the team in the right circumstance to make the race as hard as possible.
Nibali launched the decisive attack in the 2012 race, with eventual winner Gerrans on his wheel close to the top of the Poggio, but once Fabian Cancellara joined the pair, not once did Nibali see clear air. It's not an isolated turn of events, and potentially troubling for his chances.
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