Milan-San Remo 2017: eight riders who could win La Primavera

The world's leading sprinters and Classics star gear up for the season's first Monument

Spring has sprung, and the first Monument of the Spring Classics campaign, Milan-San Remo, rolls out on Saturday (March 18).

The 291km race, which favours the fast men due to the minimal climbing involved but does throw often brutal weather and the thigh-numbing 291km distance at the peloton, is expected to finish with a bunch sprint on the Via Roma.

Arnaud Demare celebrates last year’s Milan-San Remo win on the podium (pic: Sirotti)

Won last year by Arnaud Demare (FDJ), there are no less than six former winners on the provisional srartlist for this year’s race – the 108th running of La Primavera.

– The four key climbs of Milan-San Remo –

But who will be raising their arms on the Via Roma come Saturday? We’ve picked out eight riders in contention. Otherwise, make sure you check out our route preview, which dissects the four key climbs of Milan-San Remo, and the TV schedule.

Defending champion: Arnaud Demare (FDJ)

Arnaud Demare kicked off last spring with the biggest win of his career, and the Frenchman has started this season in good form too.

The 25-year-old bagged two stages wins at the Etoile de Besseges, finished in the top ten at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and won the rain- and wind-battered first stage of this year’s Paris-Nice.

Arnaud Demare roars in delight after his Paris-Nice stage win (pic – ASO)

He was only an outside contender for last year’s race, but after finishing the season with a runners-up spot at Paris-Tours – less than a week after winning Binche-Chimay-Binche – he is at the forefront of the leading contenders this time out.

Nevertheless, while he is a man for the faster, flatter Classics, Demare was outsprinted in three other bunch gallops at Paris-Nice.

You have to expect him to finish at the sharp end again this year, but the magic of Milan-San Remo is that it can be anybody’s race once it gets to the Via Roma.

Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe)

With six former winners on the startline, it may seem odd to plump straight for a rider whose only podium appearance in the race was a runners-up spot four years ago.

– Milan-San Remo 2017: TV schedule –

But it just goes to show how stats can be misleading, and world champion Peter Sagan is widely regarded as one of the favourites for Saturday’s race.

World champion Peter Sagan is among the pre-race favourites (pic – Sirotti)

The 27-year-old Slovakian has three wins to his name already this season – victory at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne being followed by two stage wins at Tirreno-Adriatico.

He has, in true Sagan style, also been in the top three on a further six occasions already this year and that’s the minimum you would expect from Saturday’s race.

Sagan is under no illusion that there are men quicker than him in the current peloton, but the Bora-hansgrohe man is consistent, and he is cunning.

The World Championship win in Qatar highlighted his tactical nous, as he navigated his way to a second world title, and it seems inconceivable he won’t add to last year’s maiden Monument win (Tour of Flanders) several times in the next few years.

Fernando Gaviria (QuickStep Floors)

Fernando Gaviria’s maiden Milan-San Remo ended in tears 12 months ago, when the Colombian crashed with 500m to go, just as he was perfectly placed to sprint to victory.

Aged just 22, Gaviria has already proved he has a big future in the pro peloton, with four victories to his name already this season to take him to 15 pro wins in his career.

Fernando Gaviria celebrates his Tirreno-Adriatico stage win (pic – RCS Sport)

Gaviria threw down the gauntlet at Tirreno-Adriatico, claiming victory on the undulating, but sprint-friendly, sixth stage in what appeared to be a perfect warm up for Saturday’s race.

And having finished the 2016 season by winning at Paris-Tours, Gaviria has already proved he is a rider with serious potential for these type of races.

A momentary lapse in concentration proved critical to his hopes of a debut win at Milan-San Remo, but Gaviria won’t make that mistake again.

Add to that the fact he will be backed by Classics legends Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert, and the powerful engines of Matteo Trentin, Julian Alaphilippe and Julien Vermote, and you can see why he is being touted as favourite this time out.

John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo)

While Arnaud Demare rolls out as defending champion on Saturday, he is not the only rider on the startlist to have won on his last Milan-San Remo appearance.

John Degenkolb missed last year’s race – in fact he missed the entire Spring Classics campaign – after being one of the riders involved in a head-on collision with a car at the Giant-Alpecin training camp last summer.

John Degenkolb proved his penchant for difficult days by winning stage three of the Dubai Tour (pic: ANSA/RCS Sport)

It meant he was unable to ride out to defend the two Monuments he won in 2015 – Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix – and, now with a new team, leaves him plenty to prove on Saturday.

Degenkolb has one win to his name this year, at the Dubai Tour, showing his strength and stamina on a day in which desert storms sapped the reserves of his sprinting rivals.

Degenkolb’s move to Trek-Segafredo will see him fill the void left at the team by Fabian Cancellara’s retirement, but the 28-year-old German has already proved he can be a serious contender at the Spring Classics.

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin)

When Alexander Kristoff won Milan-San Remo in 2014, he looked to finally be living up to his undoubted potential and when the Norwegian followed that up with Tour of Flanders success in 2015 it rubber-stamped his place in the top echelon of pro cycling.

But things have slowed down since then, and the 29-year-old has found success on the biggest stages harder to come by of late.

Alexander Kristoff celebrates his 2014 triumph (pic: Sirotti)

He has three wins to his name this year – one at Etoile de Besseges and two at the Tour of Oman – but goes into Milan-San Remo and the Spring Classics with a point to prove.

You would never write Kristoff off, however, and he will certainly feature at the sharp end of this year’s race if he continues his decent recent form.

Ben Swift (UAE Team Emirates)

On the topic of points to prove… Ben Swift’s runners-up spot at last year’s Milan-San Remo – following third place two years ago – was another reminder of the Team Sky man’s as-yet unfulfilled potential.

A winter switch to UAE Team Emirates followed, and while his 2017 season has failed to ignite he has already marked Milan-San Remo as his early-season target.

Ben Swift set Milan-San Remo as his first target with UAE Team Emirates, but has been under the radar so far this season (pic – Sirotti)

Swift called second place ‘the worst place to finish’ after last year’s Milan-San Remo, and yet there are plenty of world-class riders who have never and will never get to even experience that.

Swift’s performances in 2014 and 2016 were a reminder of his capabilities on the punchier sprint days and Milan-San Remo packs the biggest punch of them all.

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data)

An illness has disrupted the start of Mark Cavendish’s 2017 season, which has also been beset by mechanical misfortune on the road too, leaving him with just the one victory so far.

He has downplayed his chances at Milan-San Remo and yet, having completed all the road stages at Tirreno-Adriatico, he has got his full preparation under his belt for Saturday’s race.

Mark Cavendish has just one win to his name in 2017, but shares the team leadership with Edvald Boasson Hagen for Milan-San Remo (pic – RCS Sport)

He is one of three Brits in the Dimension Data line-up, alongside Scott Thwaites and Steve Cummings, and he and Cummings will share the team leadership with Edvald Boasson Hagen.

Boasson Hagen is also yet to pull up trees this season, but the Norwegian champion is definitely a man with the characteristics to win on the Via Roma.

Dimension Data have a strong squad for Milan-San Remo and you can certainly expect to see them well-represented at the front of the bunch when it matters.

Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis)

Fiery Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni has come into form at just the right moment, beating British champion Adam Blythe to win the cobbled Danilith-Nokere Koerse race just three days out from Milan-San Remo.

Bouhanni’s first win of the season has marked him as a contender to improve on his two top-ten finishes from the last two years at Milan-San Remo.

Nacer Bouhanni geared up for Milan-San Remo with victory at the Danilith-Nokere Koerse (pic – ASO)

The Frenchman simply ran out of legs for the sprint in last year’s race, meaning he could do nothing to respond to compatriot, former team-mate and fierce rival Arnaud Demare’s acceleration.

Still only 26, Bouhanni will be keen to reaffirm his status as France’s number one sprinter – and dethroning Demare on the Via Roma will certainly go some way to doing that.

…and not forgetting…

Mark Cavendish has been quoted saying the beauty of Milan-San Remo is that you can’t ever predict what is going to happen until the final seconds. Which makes trying to predict a winner difficult to say the least.

Eight men feature here, but there are plenty of others who have thrown their hat into the ring as potential contenders for Saturday’s showdown.

Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) is perhaps first among them, after bagging his first WorldTour stage win at Paris-Nice last week with a monster sprint in inclement weather conditions.

It was the exact sort of finish that can win you Milan-San Remo, and it was little surprise to see the 26-year-old Italian’s thoughts almost immediately drift to the Via Roma.

Sonny Colbrelli’s thoughts immediately turned to Milan-San Remo after his Paris-Nice stage win (pic – ASO)

Elsewhere, former podium finisher Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) heads his team’s strong line-up after picking up four top-ten finishes at Paris-Nice.

Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) abandoned Tirreno-Adriatico after crashing on stage two, but he remains on Orica-Scott’s provisional line-up, alongside former winner Simon Gerrans.

Ewan has five wins to his name this season, which have earmarked him as a serious sprint contender.

Team Sky – who have two Brits in their provisional line-up in Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe – are led by Italian sprinter Elia Viviani, with 23-year-old Danny van Poppel for support.

Rowe and Stannard are two of six Brits set for the startline, alongside Cavendish, Cummings and Milan-San Remo debutant Thwaites for Dimension Data and Swift for UAE Team Emirates.

Two Irish riders – Sam Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe) and debutant Stephen Clancy (Team Novo Nordisk) – are also expected to start on Saturday.

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