Ewan, Kristoff and Van Avermaet set to star in Italy…
Milan-San Remo, on Saturday 20th March, is the first Monument of the 2021 season. At a whisker under 300km, it’s also the longest one-day classic on the calendar and is now into its 112th year.
Everything about this historic Italian test of attrition is huge, including the cycling icons who’ve won this event using Campagnolo gear.
We’re talking Felice Gimondi, Erik Zabel and the giant of them all, Eddy Merckx (who won Milan-San Remo a record seven times).
That was then. This is now.
Which means a number of world-class Campagnolo-using riders will line up in Milan, readying themselves to ride into the record books using Campagnolo’s Super Record EPS groupset and Campagnolo wheels. To do so, first they must tame the 2021 parcours, which features one of the toughest final 60km on the WorldTour, namely the Capo Mele, Capo Cervo, Capo Berta, the Cipressa and the infamous Poggio di Sanremo.
One notable omission this year is the Passo del Turchino, replaced by the Colle del Giovo because of a landslide.
RIDERS TO WATCH
Thirty-five-year-old Belgian Greg Van Avermaet signed for AG2R Citroen Team in the off-season, showing that there’s still plenty of power left in the 2016 Olympic road-racing gold medallist’s legs.
His best effort was fifth in 2016 and he hit top-10 again in 2020, finishing eighth. So far in the 2021 season, Van Avermaet’s been busy, competing in the five-stage Etoile de Besseges – Tour du Gard, three-stage Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Strade Bianche.
Seven top-10s this far suggests he’s warming up nicely for Milan-Sanremo.
Lotto-Soudal look to have two riders in contention in the shape of Caleb Ewan and Philippe Gilbert. Australian Ewan has form at Milan-San Remo, finishing second here in 2018. The 26-year-old, who’s won five stages of the Tour de France over the past two seasons, has already won this year, taking out the final stage of February’s UAE Tour.
As for Gilbert, he finished ninth in 2020, just two seconds behind the winner. This is the only Monument missing from the 38-year-old’s palmares.
Can he join Eddy Merckx, Rik Van Looy and Roger De Vlaeminck (all successful with Campagnolo during their careers) in winning all five of cycling’s biggest one-day races?
As for UAE Team Emirates, their powerful line-up includes four riders who arguably all have a chance of glory: Fernando Gaviria, Marc Hirschi, Davide Formolo and Alexander Kristoff. But with Gaviria slowly returning to full fitness and Hirschi yet to race in 2021, Formolo and Kristoff look the strongest bets.
Formolo’s turned 28 and is close to his peak. He has the experience to make his early career potential come to fruition.
As for 33-year-old Kristoff, who can forget 2014 when the powerful Norwegian sprinted from the peloton for victory. His triumph at last year’s opening Tour stage shows he still has the hunger for the fight.
Finally, we have fellow Campagnolo-using Cofidis, Solutions Crédits, who are now in their second WorldTour season after a hiatus of 11 years.
The long-running French squad, founded in 1997, will be looking to Elia Viviani to secure their first Milan-San Remo podium since Stuart O’Grady finished third in 2004. The 32-year-old spent three weeks off his bike earlier in 2021 after experiencing cardiac arrythmia, before having the irregular heartbeat corrected by atrial ablation surgery.
But he’s looked strong since coming back and has every chance of challenging for the title.