Weather will play a factor in this weekend's Milano-Sanremo, but the race will likely come down to a few riders, team directors said.
SAN BENEDETTO DEL TRONTO, Italy (VN) — World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) or last year’s victor Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) will win the 2018 Milano-Sanremo on Saturday, predict cycling’s sport directors.
Sagan and Kwiatkowski, who began the final stage of Tirreno-Adriatico Tuesday with a 3-second lead, tops the list of favorites for the 291-kilometer classic, the first of five monuments in the season.
Last year, Kwiatkowski narrowly edged Sagan and Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) after a race that took riders from Lombardy, though Piedmont, and along the Ligurian coast to the seaside casino city.
“I saw the weather and it doesn’t look very bright, they say it should be rainy, but that doesn’t change much for my prediction,” Lotto-Soudal general manager Marc Sergeant said. “It’ll be Sagan and Kwiatkowski again last year… Sagan this time.”
Sagan, now with three world titles, has five top-10 finishes — including two runner-ups — in Sanremo. In this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico, he registered three second-place finishes.
“He is coming up to the right moment,” Luca Scinto, Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia sport director, said. “I’m his fan, I like his personality like everyone else, and I think he has the class to win Milano-Sanremo.”
“We see Peter in good condition, also Kwiatkowski who is showing well,” said Enrico Poitschke, one of the sport directors on Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe team. “When it’s a sprint, [2016 winner] Arnaud Démare given what we also saw in Paris-Nice, that was impressive, but I hope that we have a winner from Bora-Hansgrohe. This year it’s Peter. The strongest and the luckiest guy, and he’ll win Milano-Sanremo.”
The parcours has been modified slightly over the years, but the menu remains mostly the same with a series of small climbs once the race reaches the Mediterranean Coast. They climb the Tre Capi — three small climbs — and turn inland for the longer climbs to hilltop towns Cipressa and, 5.4km before the finish, Poggio.
“It’s so unpredictable,” EF Education First-Drapac sport director Fabrizio Guidi explained. “You never know if someone will move on the Poggio or attack on the Cipressa, maybe it’ll be a sprint in the end. The best is to say Sagan, he’s the world champion.”
BMC Racing sport director Max Sciandri explained, “Prediction: it’ll be an old-style Sanremo, attack on the Poggio, down with a smaller group, three names: Sagan, Kwiatkowski, Greg Van Avermaet. Winner: Greg.”
“It’ll be the usual there: Sagan, Van Avermaet … Fast riders, because as we’ve seen in the last years it’s hard to make the difference [in an attack group],” added Alexandre Shefer, Astana sport director. “One name above all? Kwiatkowski.”
“Many things can happen, you can go in the Poggio or wait deep into the final. Riders like Kwiatkowski are the favorites,” said Rik Verbrugghe, Bahrain-Merida sport director. “Sky have a strong team with Kwiatkowski, they have the cards in hand.”
Besides Kwiatkowski, Sky will race with Gianni Moscon and Ian Stannard. Luke Rowe may or may not race, recovering from a broken leg last summer.
Quick-Step Floors is another strong team. Despite losing Fernando Gaviria to a fractured hand bone in Tirreno-Adriatico Monday, it still has Elia Viviani, Philippe Gilbert, and Julian Alaphilippe.
“Sagan, he’s the favorite,” said Mario Sclera, UAE Team Emirates sport director. “Démare can do it, and our rider [2014 winner] Alexander Kristoff. I’m seeing him going well for Sanremo. But just one name: it’s Kristoff.”
“I haven’t seen the weather yet, it plays a big factor,” Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White explained. “Peter Sagan, Démare, Greipel, Caleb… I hope it’s Caleb Ewan, our rider. But you’d be surprised, the weather has a big affect on races at 300km. If we have rain and cold, it rules some guys out of the race.”
The weather forecast could change, but currently it shows rain and 50-degree temperatures for the start in Milan and the finish in Sanremo. Head-cross winds of 7 mph are forecast for the Sanremo area.