Belgium’s Wout van Aert returns to defend his Milan-San Remo title with last year’s runner-up Julian Alaphilippe among his rivals in the 112th edition of one-day classic over 185 miles across north-western Italy on Saturday. Van Aert won a sprint finish ahead of Frenchman Alaphilippe in the heat last August in a race pushed back because of the coronavirus pandemic, claiming his first victory in one of cycling’s ‘Monument’ races. The Team Jumbo Visma rider has been warming up in Italy this month, finishing fourth in the Strade Bianche, before powering to second place overall in the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race on Tuesday, with an impressive time-trial finale.
“For now the classics are the main goal,” said van Aert.
“I know from last year that I recover pretty well after a tough race. That gives me confidence going into Milan-San Remo.”
Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar will skip Saturday’s ‘Spring classic’ race after his exertions on the way to Tirreno-Adriatico victory.
But world road champion Alaphilippe returns for the fifth time in a race he won in 2019, along with Strade Bianche winner Mathieu van der Poel of the Netherlands Both finished down the field in the Tirreno-Adriatico. Alaphilippe took his first ‘Monument’ podium in San Remo in 2017, two years later outsprinting the field for a maiden ‘Monument’ victory. The 28-year-old got back on the podium last year after another blistering attack on the Poggio.
“I love Milano-San Remo, it’s such a great race and I’m happy to be heading there again,” the Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider said.
“My season so far was good, the condition has been improving since my first race of the year and also the confidence is there.”
Irish sprinter Sam Bennett, winner of two stages of the Paris-Nice, and Italian Davide Ballerini, winner of the Het Nieuwsblad in February, will also be on the starting line for the Deceuninck team, alongside Danish champion Kasper Asgreen, Czech Zdenek Stybar and Belgians Tim Declercq and Yves Lampaert.
Germany’s Maximilian Schachmann from Bora-Hansgrohe, competes after defending his Paris-Nice title last weekend.
The exhausting seven-hour race is one of cycling’s five prestigious ultra-long one-day races known as ‘Monuments’. This year there will be 25 teams of seven riders, starting in Milan. An escape on the final climb of the Poggio outside San Remo saw Vincenzo Nibali win in 2018, while Alaphilippe burned off the field inside San Remo in 2019, and van Aert pulled out a sprint finish last year.
Other past winners include Michal Kwiatkowski (2017), Arnaud Demare (2016), John Degenkolb (2015) and Alexander Kristoff (2014).
The 112th edition of the ‘Classicissima’ has a slightly altered route, with a climb to Colle di Giovo midway replacing Passo del Turchino, which was blocked by a landslide.
Again three small climbs — the Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta – set the scene for a wave of attacks over the final 30km on the steeper Cipressa and Poggio. From the top of the Poggio, only six kilometers remain until the finish line on the Via Roma in the Italian Riviera town.
RBA/AFP Photos: Bettini