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The first Monument of the season is here, and the biggest names of the Classics are ready for Milan. 

The 106th edition of Milan-San Remo takes off Sunday morning, with some of the best riders ready to take one of the biggest races on the calendar. With a number of Classics specialists and a sprinkling of GC men taking starts.

Last year’s race resulted in a showdown between a dynamic group of riders with different skill sets. In the finale, Fabian Cancellara was the fearsome attacker, pulling away Vicenzo Nibali and Simon Gerrans. Cancellara’s move on the Poggio gave the three a decent gap, and even with no help, Cancellara was able to fend off the entire peloton screaming down behind them. Nibali and Gerrans latched on, putting in some obligatory pulls before eventually letting Cancellara roll at his own pace. Gerrans won on the line, a massive victory for the Australian.

Peter Sagan is the heavy favorite this year, despite a lackluster showing in 2012. His team is totally committed to delivering him over the Cipressa and the Poggio. He’ll have to contend with recent Tirreno-Adriatico winner Vicenzo Nibali, who’s proven there’s almost no one as dangerous an attacker as the Italian. Cancellara might be his only match on the descents into San Remo.

There are a number of dangerous options from attackers, including World Champion Phillipe Gilbert, Filliop Pozzatto, Tom Boonen, Juan Antonio Flecha and and Thomas Voeckler. The profile of the race lacks the huge climbs, but the 298km race grinds down the peloton and makes Alps out of steep hills. Expect to see these names and others on the attack in the final 50km to try and avoid a sprint finish, but also to take some of the pressure off their teams if they have a sprinter on the roster.

And those sprinters will be cursing every pastry they downed in the off-season, most especially Mark Cavendish. The Manx Missile hasn’t been able to replicate his 2009 victory in the four races since. Cav has admitted he can’t get over the early climbs at the pace the peloton tackles them, but must certainly take some pride in being the reason they do. The Poggio hasn’t stopped him because he hasn’t made it there. Last year, Sky left riders to try and pull him back, and Cav eventually called them off over 70km from the line.

Andre Greipel, Matt Goss, John Degenkolb and French Champion Nacer Bouhanni will all vie for the sprint if their trains can keep the attackers in check. They’ll all try to push riders into the break to shirk chasing duties, but the most dangerous team may be OmegaPharma-QuickStep. They’ll have Tom Boonen crossing swords with Cancellara and Sagan, with Mark Cavendish lurking to finish it off if he’s anywhere within reach. That support is something Sagan, Cancellara and a lot of racers won’t have.

The Bold Prediction of the race is Greg VanAvermaet. BMC is loaded with talent, fielding Thor Hushovd, Philipe Gilbert, Taylor Phinney, and Manuel Quinzato, with Daniel Oss as an added and underrated threat as well. GvA is due a Classics win, and it should come Sunday.

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