Preview of 2021 Milano - San Remo race
Returning to its usual time of the year, “La Primavera” (referencing “Spring” in Italian) Milan-San Remo is the first Monument of 2021 and its the longest race of the professional season, at a massive 299 kilometres. Though generally considered a Sprinter’s race the final section can certainly throw up surprises and an exciting finale is assured. The weather forecast looks good so you can also expect some glorious views of the Ligurian coast towards the finale.
This year anticipation is higher still due to the sensational form of the big three superstar favourites, see more below.
The race typically hots up as the riders approach and climb the Cipressa with around 30 kilometres to the finish line. The first and more testing of the two small climbs which tend to define the race the Cipressa measures 5.6 kilometres at 4.1% and it begins to separate the contenders from the also-rans.
Image 1: The first part of the Cipressa sees a number of sweeping switchbacks for maximum helicopter camerawork aesthetics
Having negotiated the fast descent of the Cipressa the riders will fly through a fast flat section of coastal road, which may be important for positioning as the contending group swing right up on to the Poggio (appropriately meaning “small hill” in Italian). Ordinarily the peloton would pass such a climb without a second thought but at this point they will have around 290 kilometres in the legs and it will be attacked full gas. After the 3.6 kilometres at 3.6% climb comes arguably the most decisive and exciting part of the entire race as the leader/s race down the switchbacks and greenhouse terraced hill before a final 2km of flat run-in to the Via Roma finish line in San Remo.
Image 2: The left turn marking the start of the descent of the Poggio – who will take the biggest risks?..
Though small, the two final hills mean that Milan-San Remo has not recently been a straight forward sprinters race. In recent years the decisive move has tended to come on the Poggio with one or a handful of riders pulling out just enough advantage to get them to the line. In 2017 Sagan launched a surprise attack close to the top of the Poggio which only Kwiatkowski and Alaphilippe could match and the three of them held off the peloton before a three-way sprint, with Kwiatkowski taking the win by the finest of margins. The following year Nibali attacked on the ascent of the Poggio and miraculously solo-ed to victory with the peloton just metres behind him on the line. 2019 saw a small but star-studded group separate themselves toward the top of the Poggio and battle out a small group sprint with Alaphilippe coming out victorious. Alaphillipe was edged out in a rescheduled 2020 running by Van Aert.
In terms of contenders for 2021 the "Big Three" of Van der Poel, Van Aert and Alaphillipe dominate the betting odds at 7/2, 4/1 and 10/1 respectively. If the race goes to form then the winner looks likely to come from this group but its a long race where any mechanical or crash in the peloton could take out one or more of the favourites. Our tip beyond the 3 favourites would be Michael Matthews who has been climbing particularly well this year which just might see him in with a chance for a select group sprint.
One thing is for sure, while you don’t need to watch the entire 299 kilometres, you won’t want to miss the fireworks after the racers hit the Cipressa.