The Spring Classics season kicks off on Saturday (March 19) with Milan-San Remo, the longest one-day race on the calendar.
At 298 kilometres, the riders will face nearly seven hours in the saddle, yet the decisive action traditionally takes place in the final 50km of the race.
With seven of the last ten finishes coming down to a sprint, it is easy to predict a similiar outcome once again.
However, as Fabian Cancellara so brilliantly proved in 2008, it is possible to hold off the sprinters in the run-in to the finish.
After a disappointing early season, Mark Cavendish will look to take victory in his first big target of the year, but competition is likely to come in the form of Thor Hushovd, Tyler Farrar, Oscar Freire and Alessandro Petacchi.
Like Cavendish, Freire and Petacchi are previous winners here, while Garmin-Cervelo’s Hushovd has finished on the podium twice.
Milan-San Remo 2011: The route
Milan-San Remo profile: Image: RCS Sport
Despite reports over the winter suggesting otherwise, race organiser RCS Sport has kept the route the same as it has been for the last three years. Therefore, instead of finishing on the Via Roma (used until 2007), the race will once again end on the sea front in San Remo, the scene of Mark Cavendish’s famous victory in 2009.
At 298km long, la classica di Primavera remains the longest professional one-day race of the season – and one of the toughest.
Having started outside Castello Sforzesco in the heart of Milan, the races heads south towards Genova, before it heads west through Savona and along the coast into the finish.
Along with the length, the severity of the climbs always plays a part in the outcome. The race reaches the coast after 154 kilometres, before covering the Manie climb, 100km from the finish, for the third year in succession. While it has yet to prove decisive, an average gradient of 6.7% means the sprinters have to hang on for the duration of the 4.7km hill.
In the final 50km, the riders pass over the “tre capi” – the Capo Mele, Capo Cervo, Capo Berta, which all overlook the Mediterranean. However, these tend to be the forerunners for the Cipressa and the Poggio. The Cipressa (5.7km at 4.1 per cent) starts 28km from the finish and is often the launch pad for attacks that rarely stay clear but affect the race.
As the race heads inland, they start the Poggio (3.7km long) just 10.7km from the finish. Attacks go both early and near the top as the sprinters try save their legs for the finish. The twisting descent serves as another test of nerves with the final two kilometres on the flat the last chance for anyone to attack – or for the sprinters to prepare for a manic finish.
Milan-San Remo 2011: Teams
Acqua & Sapone
BMC Racing Team
Francaise des Jeux
Milan-San Remo 2011: British TV guide
Live coverage of 2011 Milan-San Remo will be shown on satellite and cable channel British Eurosport.
Saturday March 19, 1.45-4.30pm, LIVE Milan-San Remo, British Eurosport
Sunday March 20, Midnight-1am, Milan-San Remo highlights, British Eurosport
Oscar Freire wins the 2010 edition
Milan-San Remo: Recent winners
2010: Oscar Freire (Spa)
2009: Mark Cavendish (GB)
2008: Fabian Cancellara (Swi)
2007: Oscar Freire (Spa)
2006: Filippo Pozzato (Ita)
2005: Alessandro Petacchi (Ita)
2004: Oscar Freire (Spa)
2003: Paolo Bettini (Ita)
2002: Mario Cipollini (Ita)
2001: Erik Zabel (Ger)
Milan-San Remo: Last year’s top ten (2010)
1. Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 298km in 6-57-28
2. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
3. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre
4. Sacha Modolo (Ita) Colnago-CSF Inox
5. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo
6. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo
7. Francesco Ginanni (Ita) Androni Giocattoli
8. Maxim Iglinsky (Kaz) Astana
9. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
10. Luca Paolini (Ita) Acqua & Sapone all same time
89. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Columbia at 6-12
105. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Transitions at 6-12
142. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Cervelo at 14-24
DNF Roger Hammond (GB) Cervelo
DNF Ian Stannard (GB) Team Sky
Milan-San Remo 2011: Who will win?
Spring Classics 2011: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index
Cavendish counts down to Milan-San Remo
Milan-San Remo 2010: Stealthy Freire wins third San Remo
Milan-San Remo official website