Everything you need to know about the maiden monument of the season
What is this race and why should I care about it?
Both in the original and revised calendar, Milan-Sanremo is the first of the five monuments of cycling — the others being Il Lombardia, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix — and at 305 kilometres it is the longest one-day race in professional road racing.
The late Tom Simpson became the first British rider to win Milan-Sanremo in 1964 when he outwitted Frenchman Raymond Poulidor on the final Poggio climb before claiming the first of three monuments on his palmarès. Mark Cavendish became the second and, as yet, only other Briton to win the race after pipping Heinrich Haussler to the line in 2009.
Italian riders have dominated the race since its inception in 1907 where they have won 51 of the 110 editions. Following a relative drought for the host nation, Vincenzo Nibali ended a 12-year wait for Italy with his win in 2018 — Filippo Pozzato (2006) being the previous Italian to prevail. Belgium is the second most successful nation with 20 victories, while France is third with 14 — including last year’s winner Julian Alaphilippe.
Although often referred to as a sprinters’ classic, over the years the race has been won by general classification riders, all-rounders and those ordinarily suited to the cobbles of northern Europe. Indeed, recent editions have been won after attacks on the final climb of the day, the Poggio, held all the way to the line, thus denying the pure sprinters the gallop finish they had been thinking of for the preceding seven hours.
Heretics criticise this race for being too long and a little boring, but following the drought of WorldTour action over the last five months one imagines they will be whistling to a different tune on Saturday afternoon.
When is Milan-Sanremo?
What is now only the third one-day WorldTour race of the year following the enforced hiatus in the season thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, gets under way at 11.10am (10.10am GMT) on Saturday August 8, 2020.
How long is this year’s race?
Milan-Sanremo is a whopping 305 kilometres long.
Presumably, the course is similar to last year’s race?
Well, no. Just 11 days before the country’s biggest one-day bicycle race, organisers were forced into finding an inland route after a series of Italian mayors of coastal towns near Savona refused access to their roads. With the race now taking place during the holiday high season, it is understood that the local officials were concerned about the safety of a huge bike race passing through while holidaymakers attempted to cross the roads with their picnic hampers and inflatable crocodiles. It now looks like this . . .
Gone is the Passo Turchino climb which ordinarily comes at the midway point of the race, while the triumvirate of shorter climbs Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta — known as the Tre Capi — that precede the Cipressa have also been shelved. In fact, only the final 40km of the route bear any resemblance to the race that cycling fans will be familiar with.
What does the finale of the race look like?
After navigating what will be arguably a tougher route than normal, the leading protagonists will finally reach the Ligurian coastline having already spent around six hours in the saddle. Two longish, but not very steep, climbs punctuate the course. The first, the Niella Belbo, starts at the midway point in the race and is 20km long with an average gradient of just three per cent. Once over the other side of Niella Belbo, the road starts to rise again almost immediately up towards the Colle di Nava. Though benign looking, with its summit coming 229km into the race, the shallow drag will nibble away at those who have arrived under-prepared.
Once the peloton has descended off the Colle di Nava and reached the coastline, the race will be back on familiar roads. If they have not already done so, then the teams with genuine ambitions of winning Milan-Sanremo will be battling hard for position in the countdown to the Cipressa-Poggio double header, both within the final 30km (below).
With a measly 271.8km now in the legs — plus whatever length of neutralised riding the organsiers decide to include at the beginning of the race — the penultimate climb of the day, the Cipressa (below), will be the final act for some riders who simply cannot hold the wheels of team-mates or rivals. For others the 5.6km long climb with an average gradient of 4.1 per cent will become a platform on which to build their challenge.
Either way, there is a very fast descent over the other side. It was here last year where local rider Niccolo Bonifazio (watch below) launched an audacious attack. Though in vain, Bonifazio’s move highlighted a key danger point. Nobody will want to have to chase just yet and so one would expect all of the key protagonists will be marking each other.
Once over the Cipressa, a flat, but twisty and technical, stretch of road connects to the final, potentially decisive, climb of the day: the Poggio.
Or to give it its full name, the Poggio di Sanremo.
Situated just 9km from the finish, the 3.7km long climb with an average gradient of under four per cent, is a perennial graveyard for many hopefuls. On numerous occasions, too, it has provided the launchpad for an assault. In the 2017 edition Peter Sagan attacked on the steeper section near the summit that reaches eight per cent, only Alaphilippe and Michal Kwiatkowski were able to respond, the latter eventually going on to win.
The descent is extremely technical and not one for the feint-hearted. Fortunately the forecast is for dry weather, but whatever the conditions the riders will still have to navigate their way through a series of tight hairpins, all on very, very narrow roads. Concentration and nerve is key.
As you can see from the above profile, once safely off the Poggio, the course flattens out as the race enters the unremarkable town of Sanremo.
The final sting in the tail in what will be the longest one-day race many riders will have ever done comes just 750 metres from the finishing line on Via Roma as they are faced with a 90-degree left-hand turn, quickly followed by another 90-degree turn before hitting the final straight.
How can I watch this year’s race?
Those lucky enough to have subscriptions can watch the action on Eurosport or GCN Race Pass, with coverage scheduled to start at around 2.50pm until the conclusion of the race. If you cannot watch the race on TV — or your smartphone — then you can follow the action here, so bookmark this page and return on Saturday and join us. Gratis.
What’s in it for the winner?
The winner will trouser a cheque — or possibly a bank transfer to the same value, we have not asked race organisers RCS Sport – to the value of €20,000 while the second-placed rider gets €10,000 and the rider on the third step of the podium €5,000. Each rider in the top 20 will take home something, even if it’s only €500. Here’s the full breakdown . . .
With Milan-Sanremo being a WorldTour race, there will also be points on offer that will go towards a riders’ overall rankings . . .
What teams will ride at Milan-Sanremo?
Each of the 19 teams that make up the WorldTour receive an invite and in the case of Milan-Sanremo all teams are contracted to race.
Eight Professional Continental teams will race. Circus-Wanty Gobert and Total Direct Énergie qualified as a result of their place in the UCI rankings, while six further squads — Alpecin-Fenix, Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec, Arkéa-Samsic, Bardiani-CSF-Faizane, Gazprom-RusVelo and Vini Zabu-KTM — were handed wildcard entries by race organisers RCS.
Who are the bookmakers’ favourites for the race?
- Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix, Hol): 8/1
- Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal, Aus): 8/1
- Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe, Svk): 9/1
- Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma, Bel): 12/1
- Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step, Fra): 14/1
- Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step, Irl): 16/1
- Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal, Bel): 18/1
- Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates, Col): 25/1
- Matteo Trentin (CCC, Ita): 25/1
- Elia Viviani (Cofidis Solutions Crédits, Ita): 28/1