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Wout van Aert
Wout van Aert opened up his 2020 2.0 account with a big win at Strade Bianche. The Belgian’s performance at Strade Bianche showed that he clearly came out of lockdown with a lot of strength and fortitude, but he has also shown signs of a return to sprinting form.
Wednesday’s Milano-Torino bunch finish earned Wout van Aert a respectable third place finish, which admittedly is not nearly as impressive as his Tour de France stage victory from a year prior. That said, van Aert was well out of position when he started his sprint. The fact that he managed to arrive at the line in third position bodes well for the finishing kick that he will bring to Sanremo.
Mathieu van der Poel
With two race days in his legs since the season restart, Mathieu van der Poel has not yet blown the doors off a race, as he is wont to do. Did van der Poel go soft during lockdown? Probably not. The Dutchman suffered a mechanical in Strade Bianche and soldiered in for 15th place. Interestingly, he once again found himself outside the top ten at Milano-Torino.
Van der Poel must have no small degree of frustration having been thoroughly outshone by his great cyclocross rival Wout van Aert in Strade Bianche. We are betting that a bit of that frustration will be on display on the Via Roma this Saturday.
Peter Sagan has come desperately close to winning Milano-Sanremo, but has never quite managed to pull it off. Milano-Sanremo is perhaps the one race that Sagan is missing from his palmares, which only adds to the expectation placed on the triple-world champion’s back.
Sagan has perhaps struggled with that constant expectation over the past year, but he showed promising signs in the Milano-Torino finale. Sagan opened his sprint up too early, but we are taking that as a sign of motivation for this weekend’s monument.
Philippe Gilbert has won every monument except one. Gilbert has called himself a collector of races, and a victory at Milano-Sanremo is the only piece missing from his vast collection.
Gilbert is a rider who can win Sanremo a number of ways, but he will not want to contend with any pure sprinters at the line.
Lotto Soudal’s tactics in the finale will be very interesting to watch. On one hand, the team will benefit from a hard and fast ascent of the Poggio, because that will give Gilbert the springboard he needs to go on the offensive. On the other hand, Lotto Soudal will also want to protect Caleb Ewan, the most dominant sprinter of the 2019 season. If Ewan arrives with the form that he has demonstrated throughout the past year, he will likely be the most capable of the sprinters on the Poggio. If Ewan arrives on the Via Roma in a select group, with Philippe Gilbert by his side, it should be game over.
Suffice it to say Lotto Soudal has decisions to make and cards to play.
The defending champion himself said that it would be difficult to recreate his magical 2019 season. Julian Alaphilippe, like Gilbert has the ability to win Sanremo a number of ways, and he has the most capable classics team to back him up.
Alaphilippe succumbed to mechanicals and heat at Strade Bianche, so we do not have a clear picture of where his form is right now. It would be foolish to not consider the charismatic Frenchman a clear favorite for a repeat victory nonetheless.