Milan-San Remo is one of the five major monuments of the bicycle racing calendar. It is also the first major test of form. The riders race for over 300 kilometers, and then plunge down to the Italian coast for the final. This event has the reputation of a sprinter’s race. But that doesn’t quite give the correct impression. There are two climbs just before the final: the Cipressa and the Poggio. The Poggio, with a maximum gradient of 8%, inevitably shuffles the pack of riders, making the final unpredictable to the very end. 

The 2018 edition of the race proved this like no other. Climber and all-round bike racing maestro Vincenzo Nibali attacked on the Poggio (during what looked simply like a defensive move on behalf of his team mates). He then kept the hammer down in the descent (Nibali is know to be able to descend faster and more fearlessly than most riders in the peloton). He won, a couple of hundred meters ahead of a snarling pack of sprinters. We have picked out five riders for 2019 who can both get over a hill or two, and sprint well.

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan has not begun his 2019 season particularly well, and seems to be building up his form. Nevertheless, you simply can’t ignore this guy, especially during major races which he has never before won. He is certainly not the fastest rider in a mass sprint these days, but when it comes to stamina and tactical insight, there are few riders better than this 29-year-old Slovak. He is also really good at descending. If he gets the opportunity to jump with a small group of attackers on the ascent of the Poggio, then he’s likely to be the winner.

Milaan - San Remo

Sagan losing a sprint to Elia Viviani in the Tirreno Adriatico 2019

Julian Alaphilippe

Julian Alaphilippe is on form and has proved it a couple of times already in the 2019 season: he won the Strade Bianche and “accidentally” won a mass sprint while ostensibly riding as a lead-out man for Quick Step sprinter Elia Viviani in Stage 6 of the Tirreno Adriatico. He is a puncheur with a sprint and is therefore a rider who can easily digest the Poggio climb and then finish it off. He is, however, a marked man in 2019. If he does not manage to get ahead of the bunch, then his team-mate Viviani is a pure sprinter who can also win if given the chance.

Julian Alaphilippe’s “accidental” victory in the Tirreno 2019 – Photo: Cor Vos.

Greg van Avermaet

Whenever Sagan is named as a favourite to win a race, then you can’t avoid naming Greg van Avermaet. Van Avermaet is always at the front of a race and is often on the attack. The problem which Greg has is that he is often a “marked man” meaning that other riders keep a watchful eye on his every move during a race. Also, if he is in a breakaway group,  few riders appear to want to take him on in a sprint. The advantage of Milan-San Remo is that after the Poggio there is little time for tactical niceties. You just have to go for it. That could give Greg the opportunity to take the win.

Van Avermaet during the Tirreno 2019 – Photo: Cor Vos

Caleb Ewan

Calen Ewan is one of the fastest sprinter in today’s peloton and he has also proved that he get get over the hills too. If the Poggio doesn’t make the difference among the individuals and there’s an elite group heading for the line, then there’s a good chance Ewan will be in it. And if he is, he’s well qualified to take the win.

Caleb Ewan winning the uphill sprint in the fourth stage of the UAE Tour 2019.  – Photo: Cor Vos

Arnaud Démare

Arnaud Démare is also a rider who gets over the hills relatively well and can win a bunch sprint. He also has the advantage of experience. He has already won this race once: in 2016. He has therefore proved definitively that he can finish the job! His team has been built totally around him and that could be the edge he needs to give him his second win in San Remo in 2019.

Démare winning Milan-San Remo in 2016 – Photo: Cor Vos

Milan-San Remo takes place on Saturday 23 March.

See also: How to follow cycling races in the Low Countries, if you can’t be trackside