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The cycling season moves up a gear on Saturday with the mammoth 294km Milan-San Remo one-day classic where Tadej Pogacar, Wout Van Aert and the world’s top cyclists contest one of the most treasured prizes on the calendar.
With almost seven hours in the saddle to wear away at the toughest, the tension almost always run to the wire.
“There’s no accounting for how you feel at the end,” double Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar said of the longest race on the World Tour.
“I have been out training near (San Remo) there and on the Poggio,” he said of the final hill 10km from home.
“It’s one of the hardest races and one of the hardest races to win.”
The 114-year-old race is rarely won by a long range breakaway and while it is often won by sprinters, in recent seasons breaks up or down the final hill have been a winning tactic.
Last year another Slovenian Matej Mohoric won after escaping downhill using a death-defying seatdrop tactic before clinging on for a narrow win.
“I will still try to do the same thing,” Mohoric promised this week admitting he was a marked man anyway.
“The focus is still on the Poggio, just getting across the top as close to the front as possible. Then we’ll see what happens.”
The race is associated with the arrival of Spring in Italy where fans call it ‘la Primavera’.
The race leaves the Milan region at ten in the morning and weaves west through Piedmont towards the Mediterranean coast at Genoa at around 140km, where it turns north along the coast to San Remo.
Ten kilometres from home, the race reaches its mythical climax on the feared Poggio ascent, just a 3.7km climb but with one section at 8 per cent as the road narrows before top of the climb, after four hairpin bends have taken their toll on tired legs.
A tricky descent plunges into San Remo with the final 2km raced on broad roads where the last bend is 750m from the line and an open invitation for a last gasp catch up.
Should the pack stick together over the final climb, 2019 world champion Mads Pedersen, in-form Belgian sprinter Jasper Philipsen, and Australian pocket rocket Caleb Ewan should be contenders in a sprint.
The race is one of cycling’s five Monuments, super-long one day races, include the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and the Tour of Lombardy.
There are 25 teams, 18 from the elite World Tour and seven wild card entries, each with six riders, so 160 riders set off.