Milan-San Remo 2020 Preview

Featured image courtesy of Yuzuru SUNADA

Milan-San Remo marks the change between winter and spring – La Primavera as it is so often called – until coronavirus. We have a new summer date, a new inland route adding up to 299 km, the usual Cipressa and Poggio climbs before the finale on Sanremo’s Via Roma – for one year only this won’t be known as La Primavera.

The date and route might have changed but one thing hasn’t – unpredictability. Who on earth will win the 111th edition of Milan-San Remo is anybody’s guess but that’s why we love cycling!

The first Monument of the year is about to begin…

The Route

Milan-San Remo 2020 Routw

The new route inland from Milan adds an extra 10 km to the original route and features two new summits – the Niella Belbo and Colle di Nava. Because local authorities were concerned of the race passing through during high holiday season during the pandemic, this year’s race will unfortunately skip the early glimpse of the Ligurian Coast west of Genova.

Thankfully the famous Cipressa and Poggio di Sanremo climbs won’t be missed in the final 40 km – the only part of the original route to survive.

With more vertical metres this year, the pure sprinters might struggle to get over the early climbs unless they’ve got a full tank. The Poggio has seen decisive moves in the past three editions, so every contender will need to be on their guard.

Milan-San Remo 2020 profile

Milan-San Remo might be known as ‘The Sprinters Classic’ but sprinters don’t actually have the given right to win on the Via Roma. Since 2010, only four editions have seen a bunch sprint and groups of no more than 30 riders tend to make the cut nowadays.

A new route makes it even more intriguing. Impossible to call, who will the finishing group be made up of? What will be the size of the group? A soloist, a group of all-rounders or a bunch sprint to the line?

Six riders per team perhaps make it difficult for the sprinters to stop potential attacks on the Cipressa or Poggio but you just never know in cycling.

Deceuninck Quick-Step’s Julian Alaphilippe is the defending champion as he builds up the Tour de France later in August.

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So who are the contenders?

After a disappointing display at Strade Bianche last weekend, Alaphilippe will want to make amends, so never discount the Frenchman from springing a surprise. Quick-Step also have their options with Sam Bennett starting full of belief that he can win more and more. The Irishman already has a recent win at the Vuelta a Burgos and he can get over climbs so he’ll be in the mix.

Numerous sprinters will arrive in Milan who can climb very well to stay in contact. Milan-San Remo is the only Monument a sprinter can realistically win and it’s no surprise that Australian Caleb Ewan has come close in the past. Second in 2018, and an admirable 10th place on his debut in 2017 – Lotto Soudal have a contender here who can stick with the climbers but they also have their cards to play.

You would have to be pretty stupid to write off former world champion Philippe Gilbert. 38-years of age, looking to enter the five star club of winning every Monument in his career. Paris Roubaix last year was the Monument he was missing and now Milan-San Remo is the final one to add to the collection. Can the Belgian do it? There’s always a chance.

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Other sprinters who can get over the climbs are also former winners. 2014 champion Alexander Kristoff starts alongside fellow fast man Fernando Gaviria for UAE-Team Emirates and recent winner of Milan-Torino Arnaud Démare will be supported by a Groupama-FDJ team that is all in for the Frenchman. Démare or Kristoff may not be the fastest but can certainly take on the climbs and sprint their way to victory.

In fact there are so many sprinters to choose from that could win. Bahrain-McLaren arrive with two names in Sonny Colbrelli and Iván García, who took a stage win at Paris-Nice back in March. NTT Pro Cycling have Giacomo Nizzolo, who’s shown some good form this year and in current European road champion Elia Viviani, Cofidis have a man to lead the team. Nacer Bouhanni for Arkea-Samsic might also be an outside shout.

If the sprinters can keep up with the pace then they’ll be in contention but let’s not forget the possibility of them being distanced – a chance for all-rounders to take the glory.

We’ve mentioned Julian Alaphilippe as defending champion, so what about others who can win from a group or maybe do it alone? Last year’s second placed rider Oliver Naesen is a fast finisher and can climb over long distances and in Michał Kwiatkowski, Team INEOS have a former winner, who in 2017 beat Peter Sagan and Julian Alaphilippe in a close sprint.

Milan-San Remo always seems to be the achilles heel for three times world champion Peter Sagan. His form isn’t the best at the moment and in Bora-Hansgrohe new talent is on its way in German Nils Politt. If Sagan wins this Saturday then it’ll be his best career achievement to date, same can be said for Greg Van Avermaet and CCC where a win would be huge for a team looking for new sponsorship.

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Could an outsider perhaps cause a surprise.

It would be rude not to include Mathieu van der Poel, who may have had a disastrous ride at Strade Bianche but is certainly always a rider worth watching. 1985 was the last Dutchman to win Milan-San Remo, so could this new wonder kid in world cycling emulate Hennie Kuiper. This will be van der Poel’s third career appearance in Italy – if he wins it would be incredible.

Italian fans could be celebrating this weekend as their are plenty of home rider to choose from. We’ll never forget that legendary ride by Vincenzo Nibali in 2018, winning back-to-back Monuments and ending the Italian Milan-San Remo drought of twelve years since Filippo Pozzato in 2006. Nibali’s experience can see him through to the line, the great man, the ‘shark’ is in contention to repeat his 2018 win.

Defending Ronde van Vlaanderen champion Alberto Bettiol rode very well at Strade Bianche last weekend and as well as Van Avermaet, CCC have their options in former European road champion Matteo Trentin.

One final rider who starts as favourite is Wout Van Aert. Since his horror crash at the Tour de France last year, it’s pleasing to see the young man back in the best form of his life. Strade Bianche last weekend was a devastating display shown to his rivals. Soloing to the Plaza del Campo and then at Milan-Torino he finished third! He can sprint, he can time trial and he can attack on all kinds of terrain – Wout Van Aert is the man to watch this Saturday.

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What are your predictions for the 111th Milan-San Remo? Leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts.

Strade Bianche 2020 Preview

Featured image courtesy of Gruber Images

Outbreaks of coronavirus cases on Italian soil back in March saw Strade Bianche cancelled, the first race to suffer the cut. Nothing delights cycling fans more than to see World Tour cycling back as the 14th edition of Strade Bianche gets underway. The white dirt roads, the short sharp ascents, finale into Siena’s Piazza del Campo – this is what we’ve missed! 

Having to adapt to new protocols will be evident with face masks, social distancing and sanitising materials – something we’re all getting used to. New safety measures have been successful for football, for cycling open roads mean that fans can’t be prevented from standing on the side of the road.

UCI President David Lappertient has praised the return of World Tour racing but with growing numbers of Covid-19 cases in Belgium, France and Spain – he has warned that race cancellations are still a possibility.

We all hope that everything runs smoothly. The sport is thankfully still alive and we’re now looking forward to what should be an entertaining day’s racing.

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179 days after postponement we now have a race on our hands. Dirt roads throwing up dust, riders in unknown form – all the ingredients for an exciting days’ racing.

Set among the Tuscan hills, this year’s race is of course different because of rescheduling – August instead of March, conditions won’t be the same. 184 km in total for the men with 11 gravel sectors, the Lucignano d’Asso at 11.9 km the longest section. The final sector at 12 km to go at Le Tolfe could see the opportunity for attacks before the final 16% climb entering Siena’s city walls and then a fast run to the finish.

Two years ago we had pouring rain and last year we had springlike conditions. We could see temperatures reach 34 degrees in Tuscany hence hot conditions, potential for gravel sections to be looser and dusty conditions will be inevitable, likely to cause havoc.



Who will win the 19th edition is the million dollar question! Because of a lengthy break we haven’t the foggiest on who will shine bright and take the victory but we do know some names to keep an eye on. 

Strong climbers and classics specialists are in abundance as are former cyclocross riders. Last year saw Julian Alaphilippe take the win, Jakob Fuglsang finish second and Wout Van Aert claim third place – all three starting their careers in cyclocross.

After a stunning comeback to win Amstel Gold last year, it’s no surprise that another current cyclocross sensation starts as favourite. Mathieu van der Poel has never ridden Strade Bianche so surely he cannot finish at least on the podium! We said the same about Wout Van Aert’s debut in 2018 and look where he finished.

Riding for Alpecin-Felix, the Dutchman is a hot property in world cycling and with no place at this year’s Tour de France his focus will be all on the one-day classics. It’s his debut, he has the talent and putting your cyclocross skills to good use on dirt roads will go a long way. Winning overall with favourite tagged on your back would be a huge achievement if the Dutchman pulled it off.

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Last year’s winner Julian Alaphilippe starts as do four other former winners in Tiesj Benoot (2018), Zdeněk Štybar (2015), Philippe Gilbert (2011) and two-times champion Michal Kwiatkowski (2014 and 2017).

Deceuninck Quick-Step always make a big impression for the classics with Alaphilippe ready to kick off his revamped season ahead of the Tour de France, Štybar has the ability to win the race again and in Luxembourg road champion Bob Jungels and last year’s Ronde van Vlaanderen runner-up Kasper Asgreen, Quick-Step have options on the table.

After winning Milan Sanremo, La Fleche Wallonne back-to-back and surprising all of us at the Tour, Julian Alaphilippe has a big year ahead. Yes he’s confirmed that he won’t be targeting Tour de France GC but could that just be a way of shifting attention away from him? Who knows but there’s no doubt that the Frenchman has bags of talent and could easily win numerous classics from now until October.

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Belgian riders are in abundance with Wout Van Aert looking to go one better than 2018 and last year. The Jumbo-Visma man has finished on the podium twice and alongside rival Mathieu van der Poel, this could be a new emerging duel for years to come. 

Greg Van Avermaet has yet to score a classics win in Europe for CCC Pro Team, Dylan Teuns can climb all terrain as we saw atop La Planche des Belles Filles last year plus AG2R La Mondiale’s Oliver Naesen finished second at Milan Sanremo, so never discount the Belgians cooking up a storm on the road.

British squad Team Ineos arrive with two-times winner Michal Kwiatkowski, three-times road world champion Peter Sagan starts and although Astana arrive with last year’s runner-up Jakob Fuglsang, you might be tempted into thinking that current Kazakhstan national champion Alexey Lutsenko might try something. He finished seventh last year and as we saw at the UAE Tour back in February, Lutsenko can seriously climb!

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For the women, many of the teams have been in action already with three recent one-day races in the Basque Country.

This will be the first World Tour race in five months after Liane Lippert won the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race to secure the Women’s World Tour purple jersey. The points series restarts tomorrow so thankfully Lippert will get to wear the jersey on the road arriving with a Sunweb team featuring Coryn Rivera, Leah Kirchmann, Franziska Koch, Juliette Labous and Floortje Mackaij. Sunweb controlled much of the bunch last year and they could do the same.

136km along the white gravel roads, the women’s route is exactly the same as last year.



Mitchelton-Scott arrive with the strongest team on paper with last year’s winner and current world champion Annemiek van Vleuten starting alongside Jessica Allen, Lucy Kennedy, Moniek Tenniglo, Georgia Williams and Amanda Spratt.

Van Vleuten might feel pressure as the favourite but she heads into Strade Bianche in good shape after winning all three recent one-day races in the Basque Country plus she’s also won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad pre-lockdown. 

Britain’s Lizzie Deignan looks set to start in Trek-Segafredo colours alongside Italian Elisa Longo Borghini, who has finished twice in third and took the win in 2017. Boels Dolmans line up with former winner Anna van der Breggen and we’ll never forget her sensational win back in 2018, so can she do it again?

One huge favourite is Canyon SRAM’s Kasia Niewiadoma. The Polish rider has finished on the podium for the last four editions, so could she take one big leap and take the overall this year?

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Whoever wins this weekend, it’ll be great to see the Women’s World Tour back in action plus the men gearing themselves up for what will be a non-stop bonanza of cycling. Hold onto your hats, make your predictions and get set for a terrific weekend as cycling returns!

Strade Bianche Donne starts at 10.55 and the race is expected to finish around 15.00. For the men, the race starts at 12.45 and the race is expected to finish around 17.00 – all UK times.

A rescheduled season

Featured image courtesy of gettyimages/UCI

When coronavirus halted the season it wasn’t the end of the world. The season looked in doubt, our annual fill of cycling disappearing for the foreseeable future just awful. Since Paris-Nice was cut short back in March, the pandemic continues its invisible grip on the globe, innocent people are still dying. Here at The Chain Gang our thoughts are with anyone who has lost a loved one during what is a very painful and stressful time.

Covid-19 is changing our lives, our daily routines and has affected sport in all its forms. Stadiums without football fans is a sad thing to see but for cycling fans we’ve gone without for a long time. The prospect of not seeing the five Monuments, the three Grand Tours and the World Championships was bleak on top of a pressing issue as to whether cycling could socially distance. Caution, new protocols and a desire to save the season was the UCI’s plan and now we’re delighted to see the sport back but not as we know it!

Going without our yearly dose of Paris Roubaix cobbles, women’s cycling, the Tour de France and rainbow jerseys would’ve been a disaster but we’re all very thankful that won’t be the case. A 71-day schedule filled with the three Grand Tours, women’s racing, the Classics and the World Championships assures the future of the teams, the races they rely upon plus the fans appetite. Of course we’d never thought we’d see the Tour de France take place in September nor the Tour of Flanders in October but that’s the new normal, a new story that’s sure to be fast and furious. 

The Vuelta a Burgos has got the revised World Tour calendar underway for every rider to get back into the rhythm of racing. 14 World Tour teams are involved plus Bora-Hansgrohe continued their pre-lockdown form with Austrian Felix Großschartner taking their win tally to 11. Face masks were in abundance, the crowd trying its best to socially distance and with Strade Bianche coming up, it’s fantastic to see the colour and splendour of cycling once more!

So what more have we got to look forward to from now until November?

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The Tour de France will always be the central occasion for cycling as it’s global appeal brings in potential new fans. Held in September, this year’s race is possibly the hardest yet with only one 36km time trial and four summit finishes via all five mountain ranges. Disappointing as it is to see the Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse not taking place, teams will still have good preparation with August hosting Strade Bianche, Milan Sanremo (with a changed route) and Il Lombardia – three successive weekends of exciting racing on top of the Dauphiné and the Tour of Poland!

While the Tour is the prominent race let’s not forget the other two Grand Tours. The Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España have perhaps lost their status as huge annual races but despite the two clashing with Paris Roubaix and the Ardennes Classics, that shouldn’t take away the anticipation from cycling fans. Get ready for ‘Super Sunday’ on October 25th with a summit finish up the Col du Tourmalet at the Vuelta, the men’s and first-ever women’s edition of Paris-Roubaix and then the finale of the Giro – what a day in prospect!

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Rescheduled racing doesn’t mean a rescheduling of individual ambition with lots of questions still to be answered! How will Julian Alaphilippe fare after his heroic efforts in yellow last year? Will Chris Froome win a fifth Tour de France or will Team INEOS prioritise Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas to win their second titles?

New rivals for the yellow jersey are in abudance. Team Jumbo-Visma will have Tom Dumoulin, Primož Roglič and last year’s third-placed rider Steven Kruijswijk all set to try and dismantle INEOS’s dominance. Also never discount a revitalised Nairo Quintana at Arkea Samsic, Emanuel Buchmann looked good last year, Adam Yates will want to do better plus the French hope who’ll want to make amends after his injury on Stage 19 is Groupama-FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot. 

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Key names are still up for the Giro. Two-times winner Vincenzo Nibali has already picked out his rivals to win pink and that includes one of the hottest properties in cycling right now.

Twenty years of age, a big career ahead of him, Deceuninck Quick-Step’s Remco Evenepoel is already being touted as a Grand Tour winner before even securing a Monument. Youth is the future but surely he can’t win a Grand Tour on his debut? It’s only his second season at World Tour level, he has the form after winning the Clásica de San Sebastián last year, he’s the European Time Trial champion and in 2020 he’s already secured overalls at the Vuelta a San Juan and Volta a Algarve. If Evenepoel became the first Belgian Grand Tour winner since Johan De Muynck’s 1978 Giro triumph – I think cycling would be blown away!

Last year’s Giro winner Richard Carapaz made history for his country and he’ll want to repeat the feat. Astana’s Jakub Fuglsang and Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates will also be threats and although he won’t win pink overall, three-times world champion Peter Sagan remains committed to skip the Classics and make his Giro d’Italia debut.

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The Classics are all mixed up to provide entertainment, preparation and intense racing. Strade Bianche, Milan Sanremo and Il Lombardia make up August before La Fleche Wallonne on September 30th followed by an October based predominantly in Belgium for the Ardennes and cobbled classics. Races such as E3 Harelbeke and Dwars Door Vlaanderen are unfortunately cancelled but big names will still be up for the challenge.

Alpecin Felix’s Mathieu van der Poel has been left disappointed at not being allowed to ride the Tour so all his aspirations will come at the one-day events. Strade Bianche will his first assessment and who knows what this amazing rider can do after that incredible Amstel Gold victory last season. A Dutch wonderkid, van der Poel could add a lot to what he achieved in 2019 but he’ll have competition. World champion Mads Pedersen for Trek-Segafredo will want to make his rainbow stripes shine and let’s not forget the Belgians too with this year’s Het Nieuwsblad winner Jasper Stuyven, Greg Van Avermaet has his own goals plus Lotto Soudal’s Philippe Gilbert could make personal history in winning all five Monuments if he’s successful at Milan Sanremo.

All squeezed together, the classics look set to be exciting!

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If everything all goes to plan and protocals are adhered too, this new rescheduled season will be enthralling, dramatic and hopefully we’ll see some potential upsets to the usual yearly script. The World Championships in Switzerland are due to be held in their normal September slot but of course as the UCI has stated, if cases of the pandemic start to rise and with talk of a ‘second wave’ in Europe maybe on its way – decisions might see no racing whatsoever.

Caution is the most important word right now but joy is the overall feeling as cycling is back! Teams, riders and the media will all need to be careful. The sport is back with a new schedule which we hope will never have to happen again.

For the love of cycling, we hope everyone enjoys the next 71 days of action!