After last weekend’s season-opener in Belgium we turn to Italy with the Strade Bianche and Roma Maxima taking centre stage on Saturday and Sunday. Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful finishes in pro cycling these days, the Strade Bianche covers rolling hills across Tuscany, taking in the white roads with a spectacular finish in the Piazza del Campo in Siena.
Last year Moreno Moser took victory after putting in a serious dig on the steep roads as the leading group entered through the city walls leaving Peter Sagan and Ronaldo Nocentini to fill the podium.
We’d expect the same riders to be in the mix again and the odds reflect this. Many will be picking Sagan but there’s little value there while Cancellara remains a bit of an unknown so far in 2014. Pozzato will be there come the end while Kolobnev could be a great outside bet as the terrain suits him and he finished 7th last year.
A visibly frustrated Luca Paolini at Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne should work well with Kolobnev for Katusha so we’d certainly expect to see one or both reaching Siena in contention.
However, Valverde has been in superb form so far this season and we think he’ll carry this through to victory on Saturday afternoon.
Last year’s Milan-San Remo was memorable for two things; first, Gerald Ciolek of the not-so-fancied MTN-Qhubeka team took a rather unexpected victory while secondly, many of the riders simply turned into ice blocks. So much so that the race was forced to be stopped to allow riders to bypass impassable roads and thaw out on the team buses mid-race.
The 2014 edition looks to be having no such drama with the weather but the pre-race talk has been all about changes to the route. In came some new hills, out went some familiar sprinters. Out went these new hills (due to a landslide) and back came some familiar sprinters.
The odds have settled a little over the past few days with Cannondale’s Peter Sagan topping the list and 2009 winner Mark Cavendish the clear favourites amongst the bookmakers. The big sprinters from Germany, Greipel and Degonkolb are also fancied but last year’s winner Ciolek would seemingly have no chance this year if the bookmakers are to be believed.
So what’s going to happen? The most likely scenario to play out is that Cannondale et al will try to burn Cavendish out of the peloton on the Cipressa and Poggio to avoid him being in the mix come the final sprint. Ditto Greipel and Degonkolb.
We’d expect the more punchy riders like Cancellara, Sagan and Gerrans to be coming off the Poggio in the lead group so it very much depends on which of the pure sprinters can hack the ascent in the main group.
Greipel came out of Tirrenno-Adriatico licking his wounds while Cavendish looks to be in decent form when taking the final road stage win in Italy. Giant-Shimano have put their faith in Degonkolb while Kittel sits at home touching up the paint on the bike he so gracefully slammed to the floor.
There are so many options and scenarios that it’s a difficult one to call. But call it we will.
Last year’s race was cancelled due to the appalling weather across Europe but the 2014 edition looks to be run off in dry but chilly conditions.
Today’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad forms the traditional opening to the Belgian road season alongside KBK but no rider has ever doubled up.
Greipel has been in fine form so far this year but reports suggest he has been suffering from a cold in recent days which would certainly compromise his performance at KBK.
Demare looked in good shape at today’s OHN while Tom Boonen was just about where you’d expect to see him a month or so out from Flanders and Roubaix.
Previous winner Chris Sutton will be up there for the win this year but we’re tipping Brian Coquard who has been focusing his training on this kind of race over the winter.