It’s the first Monument up for grabs for the season, and all the heavy hitters are ready to roll. La Primavera  is one of the most beautiful and most ugly races on the calendar at the same time; surrounded by rolling hills and sweeping valleys, the landscape is unbelievable. But the spring conditions and penchant for heavy rains make the roads soggy, slick and the leave riders caked in a gritty, oily mud. That might be one of the beautiful parts, too.

The 298km route is the longest of the Classics by a longshot. The race usually takes around seven hours to complete, with some of the biggest challenges coming at the end of the course. The selective climb is the famousPoggio di San Remo, a hill that comes about 13km from the finish. The race is considered a sprinter’s classic because it is flat and fast enough for men like Mark Cavendish and last year’s winner Matt Goss to stay on and sprint from whatever bunch is left by the line. Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are a bit too hard and with more decisive and selective climbs for the pure sprinters to hold onto.

In 2012, Matt Goss is backed by the new squad GreenEdge. The experts have criticized the new team for a lack of a solid lead out train, but Goss didn’t need one last year. Goss outsprinted Fabian Cancellara and Michele Scarponi out of a small group of five, and might look for the same recipe for 2012. Mark Cavendish, his former teammate and the Milan-San Remo winner in 2009, does have the advantage of a strong squad. Team SKY put on a clinic at the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne earlier in the year, ushering Cav along and protecting him like a phalanx until the final 275 meters. If SKY can get Cav over the Cipressa and the Poggio, he will be very tough to beat on the line. Cavendish has lost an extra few kilos this year to be ready to make the selections on these types of climbs.

The big men will do their very best to break up the race before SKY has time to build a train and usher the World Champion to the line. Fabian Cancellara (above), the 2008 winner, returns on the heels of a solo Strada Bianche victory and some solid legs, winning the final time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico. He’ll be tough to beat, but Italian Vicenzo Nibali won Tirreno and will work to break up the field before the line. If he fails, Nibali will work to set up teammate Peter Sagan for the sprint. Oscar Freire will make it over the Poggio, but will have to time his efforts to make all the breaks. Freire won this race in 2007 and is a perennial danger-man in the Classics.

Tyler Farrar is the American hope, though after his rough MSR last year he is definitely under the radar. For Garmin, 2011’s race was a massive disappointment. Billed as the “Dream Team” with Hushovd, Farrar and Haussler, none of their riders were in the move that stuck. The meltdown afterward was equally uncomfortable, with Farrar blaming Hushovd for not working and Hushovd blaming management about the lack of a plan. Hushovd has moved on to BMC, where he has a similar problem with a team too good to fail. Ballan, van Amaraet, and Gilbert all have a shot at the race, and Hushovd will add to their firepower. But will egos be tucked away to benefit one rider, or will BMC be racing itself as much as the other favorites?

Livestream coverage of Milan-San Remo will be posted on kolo tc early Saturday morning, available in English and Flemish. You can also follow kolo tc on Twitter, and check back afterwards for a race report worthy of a cycling Monument.