While the usual hype surrounds the battle for overall honours at this year's Giro d'Italia, the results of the Milano-Sanremo classic may hold some clues as to who will win the sprint competition in the first Grand Tour of 2009.
Three of the top five in La Classicisima will be fighting it out for finish line honours at this year's Giro, the protagonists in an intriguing sideshow for the maroon jersey of best sprinter.
The absence of Robbie McEwen, Oscar Freire and Daniele Bennati opens up the possibilities for those looking to make their mark in the sprints, although the usual easy pickings of the opening week are much slimmer this year as the race enters the Dolomites in stage four.
Whoever comes out of these days the freshest should have the best chance of success when the road flattens later in the event. Let's take a brief look at who those riders could be.
Mark Cavendish (Columbia-Highroad)
Milano - Sanremo: First
Giro participation number: Two
With a newly found ability to get over challenging climbs, Cavendish must certainly start as favourite to take the crown of best sprinter. He has yet to prove that he can back up daily in the mountains over a three-week period, which may hinder his chances. Maybe we'll see him 'do a Robbie McEwen' and grab a couple of stage wins before exiting stage left to prepare for the Tour de France.
Allan Davis (Quick Step)
Milano - Sanremo: Fourth
Giro participation number: One
Making his Giro d'Italia debut, Allan Davis will undoubtedly shake the boat for the likes of Cavendish and Petacchi. His punchy style and proven ability to get over climbs will help him in the overall points classification, regardless of whether he gets a stage win. With a solid team behind him, the Australian's a good bet to make it to Rome in the maroon jersey.
Alessandro Petacchi (LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini)
Milano - Sanremo: Fifth
Giro participation number: Eight
One of the 'old guard', the 35-year-old from La Spezia has proven himself in the Giro's sprint classification in the past. He took an incredible nine stages and the maroon jersey in the 2004 edition, the Giro that stands above all others on his palmares. That's not to mention the five stages he picked up in both the 2003 and 2007 editions, all of which proves his pedigree in his national Grand Tour.
There are also several other big names who raced Sanremo and will be taking to the Giro start in Venice on May 9. New Zealander Julian Dean, Italy's Manuele Mori and South African Robert Hunter are perennial contenders, while Milram's Robert Förster should get himself in the mix and has a Giro stage win under his belt to prove it. American Tyler Farrar has recovered from his injuries suffered in Milano-Sanremo and confirmed his form by nearly winning the final stage of the recently concluded Tour de Romandie.
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