It’s the first Monument of the year and all the big guns are coming out to play. The 299km route is the longest of the Monuments and with three climbs, to take note of, in the final 60km this is certainly one of the toughest tests out there. With that said who is the contenders? Looking back on the 2021 season, it feels like a Van art, Van der Poel and Alaphilippe show, and we forgot about the stalwarts of the classics. We will be looking at the “UNDERDOGS” and ask the question on why they have the chance to take this iconic race.
First up we have a three-time world champ, Peter Sagan. We do not have to introduce him or mention his incredible CV, but he is classified as an underdog because not finding his old form and coming back from Covid. With a full-strength Bora team behind him like Schachmann, Burghardt and his right-hand man and diesel, Daniel Oss, he can never be written off.
Secondly, Team BikeExchange’s Micheal “bling” Matthews. A sprinter that can get over the climbs. This cloud be his year, returning to his old team he would want to make his mark early in the session. Matthews is leading an experienced classics team with Durbridge, Hepburn and Juul-Jansen there to deliver him to the line. An honourable mention in the time and also in with a top 10 chance is the youngster Rob Stannard, who had an exceptional Vulta last year.
Moving to a new team is never easy and to settle the nerves there is nothing like a good result, this is just what Edvald Boasson Hagen needs. With no notable results in the past two years, he is hungry for a win. New team, Total Direct Energy, boast with a few classics’ specialists in the likes of Terpstra and Bonifazio, and on a good day they will be there in contention for the win.
This race rarely comes down to a bunch sprint, but the start list has all the big names. Elia Viviani is still looking for his first win for Cofidis, Nizzolo is still finding his form after his session ending crash last year. Ewan and Bennett coming into the race with the best form of the sprinters and Gaviria and Demare looking for redemption after a few near misses in the first part of the session.
Making huge steps into the right direction is the Ineos Squad. They are sending a strong team to battle and leading the charge is Kwiatkowski. The 2017 winner started 2021 strong with a podium at Etoile de Besseges. But that is not where the Ineos chances end, Tom Pidcock, the young Brit, already showed his class and the will to win on the roads of Strade Bianche coming in at a well-deserved 5th.
All the above-mentioned riders have a proven track record and have a point to prove. This will make for interesting and existing racing, a race not to miss. Prediction time: brake away of 5 riders Pidcock, Alaphilippe, Van Art, Van der Poel and Gilbert.