Who will win Milan-San Remo and how?

First, an apology – because all the best things start with apologies. Even better, it’s a pre-emptive apology, which is basically just the promise of future disappointment. I am apologising in advance because I’m going to be several days late with my Milan-San Remo report. You’re okay with that though, right? I mean if you’re actually after cycling news, this isn’t perhaps the place to be. You could try, I dunno, Cycling News, say.

The route

Milan-San Remo is 298km, mostly flat, but with a couple of moderate climbs towards the end. They wanted to put in another climb this year, but the road’s duff, so it’s not happening. This is probably for the best because in recent times Milan-San Remo has been the one race when pretty much all the big names have been able to ride for the win – stage racers, sprinters and classics specialists all. That pretty much never happens. Even better, there’s none of that ‘the yellow jersey finished safely in the bunch’ bollocks. No-one’s saving anything for the next stage here.

They call it “the sprinters’ classic” but if Mark Cavendish managed to win in 2009 (watch this, paying particular attention to the sound just before ‘photo finish’ – there is no way you’ll be able to listen to it just once), since then he’s been distanced on a climb or a small group of riders has got away towards the end. That’s where the intrigue lies. There are so many riders to watch and different teams will have very different tactics.

Who in particular?

If there is one central plank to the race narrative, it is made of Slovakian oak and painted lime green. As I’ve said before, Peter Sagan is a better climber than the sprinters and a better sprinter than the climbers. His team’s aim will therefore be to dump the fast men when the road goes uphill before doing away with the bony remainder with a powerful surge to the line.

Many other teams’ tactics will probably just be a response to this: sprinters trying to stay with, or get back to, the bunch; and other riders hoping to somehow get into a group ahead of Sagan’s before the finish.

Who else?

If Sagan’s the favourite, it’s not a race in which that means as much with so many people in contention. Also, for all his wins, he’s never yet won a monument. He was outsprinted by Gerald Ciolek last year and finished behind a three-man group comprising Simon Gerrans (who won), Fabian Cancellara and Vincenzo Nibali in 2012.

The names in that previous paragraph tell you how open Milan-San Remo can be. Pretty much every type of rider has been involved at the pointy end of the race in just the last two years. However, if I were to name just one rider other than Sagan, I think John Degenkolb could be a dark, mustachioed horse.

To drink?

I recommend Peroni Gran Reserva, an Italian beer which is far tastier than its piss-weak sibling and has frequently been on ‘four-for-a-fiver’ at Tesco in recent weeks.