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Sagan and Valverde headline preliminary Milano-Sanremo lineup

Pro cycling's first monument classic will feature an intriguing blend of sprinters and climbers who will take on "La Primavera," the longest race of the year.

The preliminary start list is taking shape for Milano-Sanremo, the season’s opening monument,  as several big names have confirmed their presence at the year’s longest one-day race in Italy on Saturday.

World champion Alejandro Valverde and his Movistar teammate Mikel Landa, as well as Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) are expected to start.

Sagan, who was battling with a touch of a cold at a high-altitude training camp in Spain that affected him during Tirreno-Adriatico, will be aiming to win the monument that’s so far eluded him with two second-places in eight career starts. He will be joined by Bora-Hansgrohe teammate Sam Bennett, who won two stages at Paris-Nice.

“Unfortunately, I need more time to get to my best form,” Sagan said after missing out on a sprint victory in the penultimate stage at Tirreno-Adriatico. “I did the best I could, but it wasn’t enough to win,” said Sagan.

Movistar confirmed Wednesday that world champion Valverde and Landa will both start. Valverde won his first race of the season at stage 3 of the UAE Tour in February and is motivated to race with the rainbow stripes at the Italian monument ahead of a run at the Tour of Flanders and the Ardennes. Landa, meanwhile, is back to racing after breaking his collarbone in his first race at the season at the Mallorca Challenge in February.

Also suffering a crash early this season, Michael Matthews (Sunweb) remains a question mark for Saturday’s race.

Matthews suffered a concussion in a stage 1 crash at Paris-Nice, and team doctors are still evaluating if he’s recovered in time for the Italian classic. His Sunweb teammate and 2017 Giro champion Tom Dumoulin, who’s raced Sanremo on four occasions, is confirmed to start.

Other top teams are confirming their Sanremo rosters. Tour de France stage winner Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) will be starting the so-called sprinter’s classic for the first time.

“This Milano-Sanremo will be the longest race Dylan has ever done,” said Jumbo-Prisma manager Richard Plugge. “This is the next step for him to start Sanremo, and it’s a race we believe he can win in the coming years. This year he will be racing to gain experience for the future.”

Elia Viviani will lead a powerful Deceuninck-Quick-Step team with Philippe Gilbert and Julian Alaphilippe. So far, the Italian sprinter has four wins to his credit in 2019, and his team is on a hot streak in the one-day races.

Bahrain-Merida will bring defending champion Vincenzo Nibali and his Italian countryman Sonny Colbrelli.

While it’s unlikely 2017 champion Michal Kwiatkowski will start. Hot off third overall at Paris-Nice, the Pole will race next at Itzulia Basque Country, with Liège-Bastogne-Liège as his top spring season goal.

Former winners John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), and Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) will all line up for their respective teams.

Other favorites include last year’s runner-up Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott), Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates), Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team), and Roman Kreuziger (Dimension Data). Former winner Mark Cavendish is not expected to start.

The 110th edition of Milano-Sanremo traces the “classic” route from the Italian metropolis to the Mediterranean coast, tackling the Cipressa and Poggio climbs before finishing on the Via Roma.