The focus of the cycling world swings to Italy this weekend for the opening classic of the season. Expected to be a bunch sprint, can the classics specialists still spring a last-minute surprise in Milan-San Remo?

Milan – San Remo is known for being a balancing act between sprinters and punchier classics riders, this year the pendulum has swung very much in favour of the sprinters.

Ironically, the organisers had intended the 2014 edition to be one which made a bunch sprint finish very unlikely, perhaps with Giro winner and national hero Vincenzo Nibali in mind. The Pompeiana climb – a five kilometre effort with sections of 13% – had been added to the 294km route between the commonly used Cipressa and Poggio climbs.

Packing the final quarter of the race with three climbs in such close proximity had tempted some of the grand tour contenders out of their usual habit of early season stages races, even Tour de France champion Chris Froome wanted to lead Team Sky.

However, the eagerly anticipated new climb has been removed from the route due to damages to the road surface caused by the recent bad weather.

Crucially, Le Manie – the climb that had been removed in order to compensate for the introduction of the Pompeiana – has not been re-introduced, making this the most sprinter friendly Milan – San-Remo since 2007.

It is the absence of Le Manie that will make for the most significant difference between this year’s Milan San Remo and recent additions. Since its addition in 2008 as a difficult climb around 200 kilometres into the race, only two editions (2009 and 2010, won by Mark Cavendish and Oscar Freire respectively) have ended in a bunch sprint. Prior to 2008, in just one race between 1997 and 2007 did the top ten not all finish with the same time.

All the evidence, therefore, points to a sprint finish this Sunday, and the big name sprinters Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel have both been brought in to their respective team line-ups as a result of the route change. Many of the rest of the teams have also shuffled their riders around as the climbers realised the amended route was no good for them.

Both are capable of getting over the race’s remaining climbs and winning the sprint, but, having initially opted to skip the race due to the route alteration, it remains to be seen whether either has done enough appropriate training to cope with the classic’s demands.
Neither should a sprint finish be considered an inevitability.

The statistic showing the regularity of the top ten finishing with the same time is slightly misleading, as in 2006 Filippo Pozzato won having escaped on the Poggio and hung on to the end, but timing wise had the same as everyone else.

Late attacks like this still have the potential to upset the sprinters, and the narrow climb and descent of the Poggio especially makes for a threatening springboard for attacks in the final ten kilometres. Simon Gerrans’ win in 2012 came after he jumped on a late attack by Cancellara, a tactic the Trek rider is expected to try again.

As ever, a sprint finish is far from a foregone conclusion, but if the good weather hangs around, it’s looking more likely than it has in many a year.

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Milan-San Remo 2014: The route
Sunday, March 23 2014
Distance:
294km

Milan-San Remo 2014 map

Milan-San Remo 2014 map

Milan-San Remo 2014 route

Milan-San Remo 2014 route

Milan-San Remo 2014: Teams
Ag2r La Mondiale
Androni Giocattoli (wildcard)
Astana
Bardiani CSF (wildcard)
Belkin
BMC Racing
Cannondale
Europcar
FDJ
Garmin-Sharp
Giant-Shimano
IAM Cycling (wildcard)
Katusha
Lampre-Merida
Lotto-Belisol
Movistar
MTN-Qhubeka (wildcard)
NetApp-Endura (wildcard)
Omega Pharma-QuickStep
Orica-GreenEdge
Sky
Trek Factory Racing
Tinkoff-Saxo
UnitedHealthcare (wildcard)
Yellow Fluo (wildcard)

Milan-San Remo 2014: TV schedule
Digital and satellite channel British Eurosport will be showing live coverage of Milan-San Remo, plus highlights.

Sunday March 23, 13:00, Milan-San Remo LIVE, British Eurosport
Sunday March 23, 22:30, Milan-San Remo highlights, British Eurosport 2

Gerald Ciolek (MTN - Qhubeka) , Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack) on the podium after the 2013 Milan San Remo

Gerald Ciolek (MTN – Qhubeka) , Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack) on the podium after the 2013 Milan San Remo

Milan-San Remo: Recent winners
2013 – Gerald Ciolek (Ger) MTN Qhubeka
2012 – Simon Gerrans (Aus) GreenEdge
2011 – Matt Goss (Aus) HTC-Highroad
2010 – Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
2009 – Mark Cavendish (GBr) Columbia-Highroad
2008 – Fabian Cancellara (Sui) CSC
2007 – Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
2006 – Filippo Pozzato (Ita) QuickStep-Innergetic
2005 – Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Fassa-Bortolo
2004 – Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
2003 – Paolo Bettini (Ita) QuickStep – Davitamon

Milan-San Remo: Last year’s top 10 (2013)
1. Gerald Ciolek (Ger) MTN-Qhubeka in 5-37-20
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale
3. Fabian Cancellara (Sui) RadioShack-Trek
4. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
5. Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha
6. Ian Stannard (GBr) Sky
7. Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing all at st.
8. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha at 14 secs
9. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
10. Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Sky all at st.

Remember this? Just twelve months ago Milan-San Remo was almost cancelled due to the weather.

Remember this? Just twelve months ago Milan-San Remo was almost cancelled due to the weather.

In 2009 Mark Cavendish jumped clear of the bunch to catch Heinrich Haussler on the line.

In 2009 Mark Cavendish jumped clear of the bunch to catch Heinrich Haussler on the line.