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History, records and favourites in a complete guide to the 5 most important one-day cycle races of the season

Milan-Sanremo | 20 March 2021

At 298 kilometres, the Milan-Sanremo is the world’s longest one-day cycle race. It is often decided by a group sprint along Via Roma, although in recent years the pure sprinters have found it difficult to judge the risk and seal victory. The most difficult tests are the Cipressa and the Poggio, climbs of about 200 meters’ elevation that, coming in the last 30 kilometres, can provide a springboard for the most explosive attacking riders.

The record for the most victories belongs to Eddy Merckx with a total of 7, but Costante Girardengo also deserves special mention: the rider from Piedmont made the podium in 10 consecutive races between 1917 and 1926, including 6 victories, 3 second places and 2 third places.

Why you should watch it

The Classicissima is the first of the five Monument Classics, and it’s also the simplest. Many riders fancy their chances, but it’s nearly always one of the established stars who emerges on top in Via Roma after an unpredictable and high-adrenalin race. The only thing for sure is that in 2021 the kilometres between the Poggio and Via Roma in Sanremo will be some of the most spectacular in, and in the end the rider with the right mix of endurance, explosiveness, cunning and uphill performance will come out on top.

The man to watch in Liguria for the last few years has been Philippe Gilbert: if he triumphs in Via Roma he will become the only cyclist in the modern era to seal victory in all 5 Monument Classics, an achievement pulled off by only 3 riders in cycling history (Eddy Merckx , Roger De Vlaeminck and Rik Van Looy).

Favourites for 2021

*** Wout Van Aert

** Mathieu Van Der Poel – Julian Alaphilippe – Peter Sagan

* Philippe Gilbert – John Degenkolb – Alexander Kristoff – Matej Mohoric

Tour of Flanders | 4 April 2021

260 kilometres, from Antwerp to Oudenaarde. The elevation difference is moderate, but the second half of the course is a killer. The elevation map is jagged in shape and the route is notable for a rapid succession of walls: short, very steep climbs, some with cobbled sections, making it a tough and spectacular race.

Six riders in history have managed to win the ‘Ronde’ 3 times, including Fiorenzo Magni and Tom Boonen.

Why you should watch it

In Belgium this is the sports event of the year, and the Belgian riders are practically unbeatable: out of 104 editions 69 have seen a Belgian cross the line in first place. But for the last 3 years they have failed to do so, missing out only by a few centimetres in 2020.

If there is a rematch of last year’s race a spectacle is guaranteed, but if the two favourites mark each other out of the race there will be no shortage of outsiders up for the challenge.

Favourites for 2021

*** Mathieu Van Der Poel – Wout Van Aert

** Julian Alaphilippe – Greg Van Avermaet

* Peter Sagan – Oliver Naesen– Mads Pedersen

Paris Roubaix | 11 April 2021

The Paris Roubaix isn’t a race, it’s a profession. To win it you need to know it by heart and judge the perfect moment to take a risk. Very few riders have won the Roubaix at their first attempt. The Roubaix is the inferno of the North – it poses no difficulties in terms of altitude, but 55 kilometres of pavé out of 257 kilometres overall break the muscles and the endurance of many participants.

The race reaches the finish in the spectacular Roubaix Velodrome, where the racers arrive in dribs and drabs. Only 2 riders have managed to win the race 4 times: Roger De Vlaeminck and Tom Boonen.

Why you should watch it

The race was not held in 2020, and in the previous 9 years the winner of the Roubaix always changed every year. The impression is that a new period of domination by Van Aert and Van Der Poel is on the cards, but only the road will decide.

Favourites for 2021

*** Wout Van Aert

** Mathieu van der Poel – Peter Sagan

*John Degenkolb – Yves Lampaert – Greg Van Avermaet

Liège Bastogne Liège | 25 April 2021

The Liège is the oldest of the Classics, with the first race dating back to 1892, and for this reason it is also known as the Doyenne. This race is totally different to all the Classics that come before it in the racing calendar, since it has an elevation difference of over 4,000 meters. A characteristic feature of the race is its côtes – climbs of a maximum of 4 kilometres and with average gradients of 8%. So it is climbers with a fast sprint in their racing toolkit who emerge on top. As in the Milan-Sanremo Eddy Merckx holds the winner’s record, with 5 victories.

Why you should watch it

Because it takes class to win a race like this. The Liège can be won on the climbing sections, on the downhill or in the sprint, but each racer has only one shot to fire. See the 2020 edition for proof.

Favourites for 2021

*** Julian Alaphilippe

** Jakob Fuglsang – Marc Hirschi

* Vincenzo Nibali – Michal Kwiatkowski – Simon Yates

Il Lombardia | 9 October 2021

It’s the tough climbs that make Il Lombardia a hard race. About 250 kilometres in length and 4,400 meters in altitude, this is a course for the thoroughbred climbers. Il Lombardia is the only Monument Classic to take place in autumn, hence its Classics name of Foglie Morte (the ‘Dead Leaves’). To win it you have to reach the end of the season still fresh and focused, because it’s impossible to come first by chance. This is demonstrated by the name of the rider won it the most times, Fausto Coppi – the ‘Campionissimo’ – who crossed the finishing line on as many as 5 occasions.

Why you should watch it

Il Lombardia is the Classic that Italian riders have won most, as many as 69 times. In 2021 we will see if Nibali is still the Italian flag bearer for this race or if an Italian heir to his crown will finally emerge. And Remco Evenepoel has a score to settle after a nasty fall on his first outing.

Favourites for 2021

*** Julian Alaphilippe – Remco Evenepoel

** Jakob Fuglsang – Vincenzo Nibali

* Primoz Roglic, Thibaut Pinot, Egan Bernal

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