I’m happy to be back after two weeks with illness. It is time for the first monument of the year, La Primavera.
You know it as well as me. It all comes down to the Cipressa and the Poggio.
Heading south all day before turning more towards west as they reach the Ligurian Sea.
Some argue it is the best 30 minutes of cycling each year. All I will say it, it has certainly become a more exciting race to watch since Pogacar started eyeing the race.
First up, the Cipressa. It doesn’t look like much but it is. It feels like a wall. Formolo put everyone in pain here last year.
Second up, the Poggio. The hardest 3.7% of the season. Most of it with a tailwind again this year.
Descent to the finish. Tricky and fast descent. Mohoric with the descent of a daredevil in 2022.
Wind will be blowing from the W with 6 m/s. A little less than in 2022, but the wind direction is the same. It means a tailwind for most of the finale, bad news for the sprinters.
How will the stage unfold?
Sit back, enjoy the first 266 km with your feet up. Once at the foot of the Cipressa, it is where things kick off. Then it is up to UAE to do what they did back in 2022. Get rid of the sprinters. In order for him to win, the climbs must be made as difficult as possible – it at least enhances his chances. Therefore, we will see a group of 20-30 riders getting over the top of the Cipressa once again. All the pure sprinters are gone by this point – it is not a sprinters classic when Pogacar starts.
Then, over to the Poggio. Here, Pogacar attacked and attacked last year. Often into the headwind. I expect him to attack and attack again. The big difference is the team is stronger this year. Keep the pace high, put everyone in red and then attack. Everyone is looking at him. A small group means fewer to keep your eyes on. I imagine he will attack once through the hairpins, around 7 km out. From here, no time to look back. Full gas over the top, see what challengers you are going to fight it out with over the line. One of the big issues in 2022 was he had to close every attack and it was a stop-and-go.
How many gets over the top together? I think if UAE get it right, we don’t see 10-15 riders over the top. We see a handful.
Now, that doesn’t mean it is all up to UAE. I expect Jumbo-Visma to be one of the more active teams too, but UAE is the team that will pick up the pace on the climbs.
Pogacar – he starts as one of the big favorites. I have already gone over how I think UAE should approach the race. Keep a few for Poggio, you don’t want to isolate your leader. Keep the pace way up and have him launch without looking back. Remember, after almost 300 km of racing, everything we know about “this-rider-being-faster-than-that-rider” doesn’t really make sense anymore. I think he will fancy his sprint from a small group. His biggest problem is, everyone will look at him to close every gap.
Wout van Aert – he got better and better in Tirreno-Adriatico. The question is, if he is good enough to win Milano-Sanremo already. He is surrounded by some of the best riders at the moment, Laporte, Tratnik and Valter. They will be one of the teams will domestiques after Cipressa. If you ask me, the team has one job. Keep Wout van Aert safe and at the front. Then Wout van Aert got one job, which is even more difficult – follow Pogacar on the Poggio and try to beat him in the sprint.
Mathieu van der Poel – his current form isn’t screaming he will be one of the top favorites tomorrow. I still expect him to be one of the strongest five riders tomorrow which is no surprise for anyone. This year, I think it is fair to say more eyes will be on WvA and Pogacar which gives him just a small edge in terms of having to react to moves. He too is very quick in a reduced sprint, it is almost a trademark by now to lower the tempo and simply out-accelerate his competition.
Mohoric – the plan should be the same. Hope to get over the top with the best riders and bet the house on the descent. He is one of the riders who have had a brilliant start to the season. He is quick in a reduced sprint, but I think some of the riders here are quicker. It will be difficult to do the same again.
Alaphilippe – you just never really know with Alaphilippe anymore. I think he is there or there about to fight for the win. If the race unfolds as I think, the tougher the Cipressa and the Poggio, the better his chances should be. As the 2022 season was filled with bad luck, people tend to forget just how good a puncheur he is. I expect him to be in the contention of the win tomorrow.
Mads Pedersen – in my book, the only sprinter who stands a chance at surviving. He left Paris – Nice with cold or symptoms of it. It is not the optimal preparation, hopefully, it has not set him too far back.
Powless – I will just throw his name in here. He has had a flying start to the season. With the tailwind on the last two climbs, it should suit him. The main problem is, he will not beat a lot of riders in a sprint.
SKA – it seems to be the race that gets the best of him. He provides Alpecin with a strong second option. Don’t forget, he was the fastest rider on the Poggio in 2022 and in 2021, he was the rider who closed the gap to Stuyven.
Who will win?
I think UAE will make it more decisive than the last few years. I see a 3-5 riders going over the top of the Poggio, willing to fight it out in a sprint. From that group, Pogacar will take the win.