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Milano-Sanremo power rankings: Top-10 riders

The first monument race of 2017 is days away. On March 18, Milano-Sanremo will challenge the peloton to 291 kilometers of racing, culminating with a run along the Italian coast to the finish, which includes the two famous final climbs: first the Cipressa and then the Poggio. Which rider do you predict will claim victory on the Via Roma? Here are the official VeloNews power rankings for Milano-Sanremo.

10. Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida)

Colbrelli, 26, is hardly the most decorated sprinter in the peloton. He’s an X-factor, with one thing working in his favor: He’s coming off of his first career WorldTour win in stage 2 of Paris-Nice, indicating good form. Though he’s won multiple pro races in the last few seasons, Colbrelli’s dark horse appeal lies in the intangibles. He’s Italian, so he has a natural incentive to perform on home soil. Plus, Colbrelli toiled for six years within the Pro Continental ranks before getting a break with the Bahrain-Merida squad, so he is surely hungry to prove himself.

9. Michael Matthews (Sunweb)

The Aussie they call “Bling” has had a quiet start to 2017, only racing at Paris-Nice so far this season. There, his best result was fourth in the stage 5 sprint. It’s difficult to gauge Matthews’ form this season. The 26-year-old, who has won stages in all three grand tours, shouldn’t be counted out if he survives the Poggio. Like Colbrelli, he may find motivation with a new team after five years with Orica.

8. John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo)

This contenders list features a lot of familiar faces riding in new kits for 2017. Degenkolb is also a notable transfer, taking the reins at Trek-Segafredo. Thus far, he’s shown promise in the new colors. He won a stage at Tour of Dubai and landed on the podium in sprints at both Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice. The German won Milano-Sanremo in 2015, so he knows how to win this race. Experience is key in the season’s longest race, and Degenkolb will have a keen eye for the details, such as eating and drinking throughout the day, positioning on the Cipressa and Poggio, and which wheels to follow into town.

7. Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis)

Which Bouhanni will show up in Italy this year? Will it be the man who was oh-so-close in 2016, only to be stymied by a skipping chain? Or will it be the Bouhanni who’s had a tepid early 2017 season, only claiming his first victory Wednesday in Danilith-Nokere Koerse (not exactly a WorldTour-level field, by the way). Bouhanni has finished top-10 two years in a row at Sanremo, so he certainly knows how to find the lead group over the Poggio — but is he able to do that this time?

6. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing)

We assume a trophy at Ronde van Vlaanderen is the apple of Van Avermaet’s eye, more so than a Milano-Sanremo win, but that doesn’t mean the Belgian won’t be a strong favorite. We all doubted his potential in the hilly Olympics road race. He proved us wrong. Are we selling him short by questioning his motivation or his skill set for the fast finish after climbing the Poggio? His win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (over Peter Sagan, no less), and second place at Strade Bianche show he’s in top form right now.

5. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin)

Since winning three stages at the Tour of Oman, Kristoff has been quiet. But the man who won Milano-Sanremo in 2014 and Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2015 remains a top favorite, due to his ability to win the world’s biggest races. Kristoff knows how to win long, hard sprints, which is often how Sanremo plays out.

4. Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data)

Cavendish stormed through 2016, proving skeptics wrong with four stage wins at the Tour de France and second place at world championships. He won Sanremo once before, but that was in 2009. In 2016, Cavendish was a distant 110th place, but he’s been top 10 two other times, in 2013 and 2014. Apart from a stage 1 win in the Abu Dhabi Tour, he’s had a slow start to the season. If the bunch stays together for a field sprint after the Poggio, don’t count out Cav.

3. Arnaud Démare (FDJ)

Démare stunned the favorites last year, sprinting to victory on the Via Roma. Of course there were key factors that played into the Frenchman’s hand. For one, Fernando Gaviria crashed in the sprint, taking himself and Peter Sagan out of contention. As we mentioned earlier, Bouhanni had drivetrain difficulties in the sprint, so he wasn’t a factor. Good luck helps set a rider up to win Sanremo, and he needs to play the tactics right and be fit enough for the distance and the final hills. Démare did his homework last year, and with a Paris-Nice win in the bag this season, he should be a factor on Saturday.

2. Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors)

How bad does Gaviria want to win Milano-Sanremo? Bad enough to move to Italy, bring his girlfriend along, and have former winner Alessandro Petacchi personally guide his preparation. The Colombian was close in 2016 but lost out due to a moment of inattention. Doubtful that will happen again. He’s on form with wins in every stage race he’s started in 2017 — Vuelta a San Juan, Volta ao Algarve, and Tirreno-Adriatico — and he’s got an all-star Quick-Step team on his side. Tom Boonen will be an essential road captain to help him read the race. Philippe Gilbert and Julian Alaphilippe could be nice wildcards to play on the Cipressa or Poggio. Only one thing might stop him this year …

1. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe)

Yes, the gravitational center of the cycling universe, Slovak star Peter Sagan, is the man who could spoil Gaviria’s well-laid plans. Sagan won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne after a second place in Omloop, and he also collected two victories in Tirreno-Adriatico. That second victory, in stage 5, was especially noteworthy, because he managed to beat the top climbers and GC guys at their own game on a steep uphill finish in Fermo, Italy. This indicates he’ll have no trouble with the Cipressa and Poggio at the end of a long day, and perhaps the form will inform his tactics, encouraging the two-time world champion to break away, rather than wait on the sprint. The only question is whether stronger teams, namely Quick-Step, can find a way to out-fox the strongest man in the peloton with tactics and a deeper bench.

Milano-Sanremo takes place Saturday, March 18. It is expected to finish between 11:50 and 12:30 Eastern. No major U.S. networks are broadcasting the race.