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As we head into the second half of March, the first Monument of the 2022 season looms large, with the peloton set to take on Milan-San Remo on Saturday.
For more than a century, “La Classicissima” has drawn big stars to northwestern Italy for a lengthy trek from Milan in the Po Valley over to the coastal town of San Remo, where one of cycling’s most entertaining finales awaits. Long a race that favored the sprinters, Milan-San Remo has offered no shortage of intrigue in recent years as late attackers have consistently foiled the fast finishers over the past few editions. The final stretch of the race and the accompanying uncertainty about how things will play out for those brave few who go up the road make for some must-watch entertainment.
Jasper Stuyven won last year’s edition in thrilling fashion, and as ever, plenty of big names will be in attendance to potentially provide another great show in 2022. Here’s what you need to know about the course and the contenders for the 112th edition of Milan-San Remo.
Milan-San Remo covers 293 km over the course of its journey from Milan to the Ligurian coast, finishing in San Remo on the iconic Via Roma. This year’s route looks similar to the past two editions, with the most notable change being the return of the Passo del Turchino climb shortly before the midway point.
Riders will cover more than 100 km of mostly flat roads before starting the gradual ascent up the Turchino, which is unlikely to have much of an impact at that spot in such a long race. Then comes a fast descent down to mostly flat roads, without many topographic challenges until the final 60 km, where the “Tre Capi” will start to build the excitement.
None of the Capo Mele, Capo Cervo, or Capo Berta is particularly challenging in its own right, but they will wear away at the legs and set up the potential for excitement on the final two climbs, the Cipressa and the Poggio. Both the ascents up and the descents down off of those two climbs – and the final stretch on the Via Roma – should be the key moments of the race.
The Cipressa is a 5.6 km ascent with a 4.1% average gradient. With more than 20 km to go from the top of the climb, it’s a long way out to make an attack, but that won’t stop some of the stronger climbers from giving it a go. A tricky descent follows the Cipressa before the run-in to the final climb of the race, the Poggio di Sanremo.
The iconic climb is only 3.7 km long with an average gradient of 3.7%, but it comes after 280 km of racing. What might otherwise seem like a small challenge is anything but at Milan-San Remo, and in recent years, the climb has proven decisive, sending sprinters out the back and providing a springboard for attackers. From the top, it’s only 5.5 km to the finish, and more than 3 km of that is downhill, leaving very little room for a regrouping at the bottom.
When things flatten out in San Remo itself, riders will pass under the flamme rouge, and then make a sharp left followed by a sharp right to arrive on the Via Roma, where the final few hundred meters and the finish line await.
The challenges of the course are often compounded by inclement weather, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the forecast as we head into the weekend. For now, Saturday looks set to be dry but windy, with a tailwind likely in the finale. Should that hold through to race day, it could prove helpful for anyone making a late attack.
Despite its reputation as a Classic for the sprinters, Milan-San Remo has been wonderfully unpredictable of late – but we’ll do our best to make some prognostications anyway! As of publication time on Wednesday, the start list remains very much provisional, so keep an eye out for updates as more official information emerges regarding the field.
For a race that could potentially end in either a bunch sprint or a successful late attack, it’s hard to look past a rider who can win in either scenario as the top favorite. What’s more, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) has won the race in the past.
This race suits him beautifully, as he is a fantastic climber who can handle the Cipressa and the Poggio while still being able to outsprint the field should it come down to that. The 27-year-old Belgian will have the advantage of following attacks late without necessarily feeling like he has to force them to take the win. It won’t be easy for Van Aert and Jumbo-Visma to chase down every potential move – Stuyven’s surprise strike as the road flattened out last year was evidence of that – but of anyone in the peloton, Van Aert seems most likely to win no matter how the race plays out. Intriguingly, Jumbo-Visma may also have Primož Roglič in its lineup for the race; we’ll see if he tries anything.
Plenty of big names could challenge Jumbo-Visma regardless of how this race plays out. Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) headlines the challengers among the sprint crowd. He has finished second in this race twice in his career, winning bunch sprints behind solo winners Vincenzo Nibali (in 2018) and Stuyven (last year), and he’s able to handle a tough day better than almost anyone that has that amount of pure speed. If San Remo comes down to a sprint, he’s probably the favorite, but lately, that’s been a big if. Lotto Soudal also has Philippe Gilbert, who has finished on the podium twice, to follow moves or help set Ewan up.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) will have all eyes on him as the race hits the final two climbs. For all his talent, he doesn’t have the sprint to match many of the other contenders, so he’ll have to try his luck from afar – but if anyone can go solo and hold on through to the line, it’s Pogačar, who seems to just keep getting better somehow.
Trek has announced that Jasper Stuyven won’t be able to defend his title due to illness, but Mads Pedersen will be a strong contender for Trek-Segafredo in the Belgian’s absence. The former world champ is capable of holding on through a challenging day on the bike and then thriving in a fast finish, where he seems to get better and better every year.
Speaking of “fast finishes,” Fabio Jakobsen looks set to headline the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team, who will be without former winner Julian Alaphilippe as he recovers from bronchitis. Jakobsen has already racked up six wins on the young season, and if he’s there on the Via Roma, he’ll be hard to beat, but it’s hard to say how he’ll handle the grueling journey to get there. Zdenek Stybar and Florian Sénéchal are other cards to play for the team.
Tom Pidcock is one of a few key names in a strong Ineos Grenadiers team that also includes a big engine in Filippo Ganna and former winner Michal Kwiatkowski. Expect the squad to try to make it a hard race to set up one or more of those riders for a big late attack.
Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) has finished on the podium at Milan-San Remo twice in his career, most recently in 2020, and on paper, he looks like a great pick given the profile. That said, he is a bit of a question mark without any huge results lately. He has consistently been in the mix since joining BikeExchange, but he has not picked up any victories since 2020. Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) is another rider in a similar boat. For years, San Remo seemed like a Classic that was tailormade for his talents, but he has never won despite finishing second twice, and his form is a bit of a question mark after a COVID-19 positive hindered his offseason buildup.
The list of contenders at a race that has proven so hard to predict lately goes on and on. Among the fast finishers that may make the start and who could be in the mix are former winners Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) and Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert) as well as Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel-Premier Tech), Bryan Coquard (Cofidis), and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix). Other big names on the provisional start list include Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious), Søren Kragh Andersen (DSM), Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost), Ivan García Cortina (Movistar), and Greg Van Avermaet and Bob Jungels (AG2R Citroën).
When to watch
La Classicissima will get underway at 9:50 am in Milan (4:50 am EDT/8:50 am GMT/7:50 pm AEDT), with something on the order of seven hours of racing to follow. With so many kilometers on tap, even small differences in the peloton’s average speed can mean big changes in the timetable. Still, the pack should arrive at the Cipressa – where the real excitement should kick in – at around 4:25 pm local time (11:25 am EDT/3:25 pm GMT/2:25 am AEDT). The Poggio will follow about 20 minutes later.