The news that Tom Pidcock has been forced to withdraw with concussion following a crash at Tirreno-Adriatico last week is a blow for a rider who kicked off the month in style with his brilliant Strade Bianche win. Nevertheless, a stellar line-up will gather in northern Italy on Saturday. With Tadej Pogacar, fresh from his Paris-Nice victory, hunting a first success in this race it promises to be another cracking instalment in what is shaping up to be a vintage road racing campaign.
The longest one-day race on the World Tour at 294km, riders regard MSR as one of the hardest to win in pro cycling. It’s also one of the most wide open. Depending on how the race unfolds, climbers, puncheurs and sprinters will all hope they can get in the mix.
Back in 2009, Mark Cavendish famously edged a thrilling finish on San Remo’s Via Roma. But the odds now seem increasingly stacked against the pure fast men – you have to rewind to 2016 for the last bona fide bunch sprint when Arnaud Demare took the title. Latterly, it has favoured all-rounders who can still muster a finishing punch after six-and-a-half hours in the saddle. Explosive riders who can potentially forge a gap when it all kicks off on the decisive late climb of the Poggio and then keep the chasing pack at bay on the twisting descent towards the finish.
Julian Alaphilippe (2019) and Wout van Aert (2020) have recent winning history here and it’s no surprise that alongside Pogacar and Mathieu van der Poel they are strongly tipped to be involved at the sharp end of the race. Pogacar has been like Pac-Man on a bike hoovering up nine wins in 13 race days but Van Aert has only had one week of road racing at Tirreno-Adriatico as prep for a tilt at this weekend. There were, though, glimpses that he is quickly finding his form. Alaphilippe, who also hopes to be in contention in San Remo, remarked that Van Aert looked “incredibly strong” after racing alongside the Belgian last week.
Dutchman Van der Poel was third last year but has played down his chances of a first win in this race after a lukewarm start to his campaign. He cannot be discounted though. Neither can Matej Mohoric, the man they must dethrone. Last year Mohoric caught his rivals napping, attacking on the Poggio and escaping his pursuers on the descent en route to a stunning win. His use of a dropper seatpost, to adjust his saddle height and gain more control going downhill, paid off and the defending champion says he will use the same set-up again. History is against him though – no rider has claimed back-to-back victories since German great Erik Zabel in 2000 and 2001.
How to stop the seemingly unbeatable Pogacar will be foremost in many riders' minds as the peloton heads towards the Ligurian coast. However, if Van Aert has timed his preparations well and is there with Pogacar at the denouement he is the obvious candidate to potentially halt cycling’s man of the moment.