Will Milan-San Remo come down to a sprint, or can one of the riders who is in peak form, such as Fabian Cancellara or Philippe Gilbert, spring a late surprise on the descent of the Poggio and the run-in to the finish?

Oscar Freire has to be the favourite following his powerful performance at Tirreno-Adriatico ? and the fact he?s won Milan-San Remo twice before, including last year.

The run-in from the top of the Poggio to the finish has been altered to avoid the Via Roma, making it slightly longer from the top of the climb. The sprint is slightly downhill too but what the new route has handed the sprinters, it has balanced out with the inclusion of La Manie, a tough climb 94 kilometres from the finish that will deaden the sprinters’ legs.

CSC?s Cancellara would be the obvious rider to upset the sprinters. He?s in superb form having won Tirreno-Adriatico with a consummate performance. His stage win at Compiegne in last year?s Tour de France, when he jumped out of the bunch to shock the sprinters while wearing the yellow jersey, shows he?s capable of such a move.

The finale of La Primavera is always exciting even though tactically it is not an exercise in subtlety.

Everyone knows the fireworks will spark on the Poggio but controlling the race there is like trying to wrestle a bag of kittens. It?s impossible to keep an eye on everyone and there won?t be a shortage of riders trying to get away.

Milan-San Remo
298km
Saturday, March 22
British Eurosport 2pm-4pm

The final couple of kilometres are an unknown quantity this year. Roadworks in a side street that joins the Via Roma, and complaints from shopkeepers that they will lose customers on what should be a busy Easter Saturday for them, means the finish has been changed.

THE NEW FINISH
Instead of the gentle right turn at the fountain that took the riders onto the slightly rising Via Roma, the new route turns left towards the seafront and is actually slightly downhill, with the finish line in the Piazzale Carlo Dapporto, which is usually used as a park.

Usually the sprinters fade on the Via Roma, giving an advantage to the riders who attack late on the descent of the Poggio or the flat run-in, but it could be different this year. The sprinters who have checked out the finish believe the pendulum has swung further in their favour.

The distance between the top of the Poggio and the finish is a almost five hundred meters longer too, which will offer the sprinters a little more time to recover from the effort made on the climb. It may not sound much until you consider that the difference between a break staying clear and being caught can be the blink of an eye.

The organisers have announced that the new finish will be used for the next few years too.

A NEW CLIMB TOO
The addition of another tough climb, La Manie, with 94 kilometres to go, has offered hope to the riders who plan to attack on the Cipressa or Poggio. It?s said to be tougher than the Cipressa and although it?s too far out for anyone to consider an attack, if the favourites choose to make it hard there it will increase the opportunities for a break on the Cipressa or the Poggio.

Philippe Gilbert stirs it up on the Poggio last year, followed by Riccardo Ricco. The Belgian is in great form and can be expected to be active again. By Presse Sports

If the race does come down to a sprint, one man who won?t be there to contest it is Mario Cipollini, who parted company with Rock Racing this week, wrecking his chances of celebrating his 41st birthday with a fairytale result. No Cipollini means no Rock Racing either. The Italian squad Miche-Silver Cross step in to replace them.

Another Italian, Riccardo Ricco, has announced he will not ride this weekend.

So, will it be another victory for the sprinters, or will one of the brave souls who places everything on the line on the ascent or descent of the Poggio prevail?

With the likes of Cancellara and Gilbert favouring late moves, it could prompt something to happen earlier. And with the new hill likely to subject the sprinters’ teams to a severe test, the final stages could be harder to control than in the recent years.

Although recent history favours the sprinters ? with eight sprint finishes in the last 11 years ? it is by no means a formality.

The only riders to buck the trend in the past decade are Andrei Tchmil in 1997, who made a Cancellara-style late attack inside the final kilometre, and Filippo Pozzato and Paolo Bettini, who succeeded after making a move on the Poggio.

Here we look back at every edition of Milan-San Remo since 1994 to see how the race has been decided.

2007
How it was won: SPRINT
Philippe Gilbert and Riccardo Ricco attack on the Poggio but are caught. Oscar Freire takes the bunch sprint

2006
How it was won: POGGIO ATTACK
Samuel Sanchez, Frank Schleck and Rinaldo Nocentini, Filippo Pozzato and Alessandro Ballan get away on the Poggio and stay away. Nocentini attacks with 600 metres to go but fades quickly. Pozzato of Quick Step counters with 300 metres to go just as the bunch is about to close him down.

2005
How it was won: SPRINT
Laurent Brochard tries a late attack inside the last 1.5 kilometres but it ends in a sprint, won by Alessandro Petacchi.

2004
How it was won: SPRINT
Igor Astaraloa and Samuel Sanchez are among those who try to get away on the descent of the Poggio but Petacchi?s Fassa Bortolo squad keep a lid on things to set up the sprint. Erik Zabel thought he had it, but is pipped on the line by Freire.

2003
How it was won: POGGIO ATTACK
Luca Paolini of Quick Step attacks behind Danilo Di Luca of Saeco. Another Saeco rider, Mirko Celestino, and Paolini?s team-mate Paolo Bettini go with it. Paolini, Celestino and Bettini stay clear, with Bettini attacking late to clinch the win.

2002
How it was won: SPRINT
Bettini and Giuliano Figueras attack on the Poggio but Acqua & Sapone bring it back to set up Mario Cipollini for the sprint.

Cipollini won?t be there to repeat his win in 2002. By Presse Sports

2001
How it was won: SPRINT
Erik Dekker of Rabobank attacks with two kilometers to go but the sprinters prevail, with Zabel pipping Cipollini

2000
How it was won: SPRINT
Bettini and Juan Carlos Dominguez have a go on the decent. Gian-Matteo Fagnini leads out Zabel to win

1999
How it was won: LATE ATTACK
The sprinters are caught napping by Andrei Tchmil, who attacks with 600 metres to go

1998
How it was won: SPRINT
The race splits on the descent of the Poggio and Zabel wins the 18-man sprint

1997
How it was won: SPRINT
A big crash mars the finish but Zabel avoids the carnage to win

1996
How it was won: CIPRESSA BREAK
Four riders, Gabriele Colombo of Gewiss, Alexandre Gontchenkov, Max Sciandri and Michele Copolillo attack on the Cipressa, a little over 20 kilometres from the finish. Colombo attacks again one kilometre from the line. The bunch is 30 seconds back.

1995
How it was won: POGGIO ATTACK
Laurent Jalabert and Maurizio Fondriest attack on the Poggio, with Jalabert edging it at the finish

1994
How it was won: POGGIO ATTACK
Gewiss rider Giorgio Furlan attacks on the Poggio, setting a record time for the three-kilometre climb of five minutes and 22 seconds to solo to victory.

THE FAVOURITES

THE SPRINTERS A-LIST
Oscar Freire (Rabobank)
Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole)
Gerald Ciolek (High Road)
Gert Steegmans (Quick Step)
Tom Boonen (Quick Step)
Alessandro Petacchi (Milram)

THE SPRINTERS B-LIST
Baden Cooke (Barloworld)
Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld)
Robert Hunter (Barloworld)
Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner)
Sebastien Chavanel (Française des Jeux)
Danilo Napolitano (Lampre)
Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto)
Stuart O?Grady (CSC)
Erik Zabel (Milram)
Alberto Loddo (Tinkoff)

THE LAST-MINUTE CHANCERS
Fabian Cancellara (CSC)
Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas)

PLANNING FOR THE POGGIO?
Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r)
Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux)
Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner)
Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner)
Alessandro Ballan (Lampre)
Danilo Di Luca (Team LPR)
Paolo Bettini (Quick Step)
Frank Schleck (CSC)

LATEST ODDS

How Unibet.com sees it

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) 5.00
Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) 6.00
Tom Boonen (Quick Step) 7.50
Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) 12.00
Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) 17.00
Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) 17.00
Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto) 17.00
Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) 17.00
Fabian Cancellara (CSC) 17.00

THE TEAMS

The teams and their leaders. British riders in bold
Ag2r-La Mondiale: Nocentini, Krivtsov
Barloworld: Gasparotto, Hunter, Soler
Bouygues Telecom: Champion, Jerome
Caisse d?Epargne: Rojas, Lastras
Cofidis: Chavanel, Nuyens
Crédit Agricole: Hushovd, Hunt
CSF Group-Navigare: Sella, Richeze
Diquigiovanni-Androni: Axelsson, Illiano
Euskaltel-Euskadi: Aramendia, Galdos
Française des Jeux: Chavanel, Gilbert
Gerolsteiner: Rebellin, Schumacher
High Road: Ciolek, Hincapie, Hammond
Lampre: Ballan, Baldato, Napolitano
Liquigas: Pozzato, Fischer
LPR Brakes: Di Luca, Savoldelli
Miche-Silver Cross: Niemiec
NGC Medical-OTC: Cannone
Quick Step: Boonen, Bettini
Rabobank: Freire, Flecha
Saunier Duval: Capecchi
Silence-Lotto: Hoste, McEwen
Slipstream: Backstedt, Dean, Millar
CSC: Cancellara, O?Grady
Milram: Petacchi, Zabel, Astarloa
Tinkoff: Ignatiev, Brutt

Calm before the storm. By Presse Sports