It’s mid-March and the Italian sickbay is crowded. Is there an virulent strain of anti-sprinter virus going around in the peloton?
Illness and injury have knocked out a good number of top riders who’d planned their early season goal around La Primavera, the first Monument of the year, Milan-San Remo.
The no-show list is impressive. Just today, Trek-Segafredo announced that former MSR winner John Degenkolb will not start, unable to recover and shake the bronchitis he picked up during a decidedly rainy Paris-Nice. In addition, their plan B, Giacomo Nizzolo is suffering from a knee injury — call that an injury bug.
It’s the same exact story for Cofidis sprinter Nacer Bouhanni — Paris-Nice-Bronchitis. He’s angry and upset and claims he’s ready to roll but management pulled his plug. That opens the door for the appropriately named Christophe Laporte — in French, porte means door. Cofidis is trying the tough love approach to Bouhanni and so far that hasn’t made him any faster just seriously angry.
Then there’s the hard-luck case that has become Mark Cavendish. The Dimension Data rider has continued to add dimension to his bad luck, which really hasn’t stopped since his unfortunate and dramatic crash against the right side barrier during a first week sprint in the Tour de France.
Peter Sagan may or may not have precipitated that nasty crash but whatever the cause, the Manxman has endured a terrible string of accidents and illness ever since that day. Cavendish is out of Milan-San Remo and one has to being to wonder if he will ever have a chance to round into form for another shot a glory in Le Grand Shindig. His face looks like crap, his body is beat up, his spirits are sinking.
Fernando Gaviria is another top sprinter who has fallen out of contention. He was all set to lead a stacked Quickstep Floors squad until his hand fractured on stage six of Tirreno-Adriatico. The Colombian fastman had looked to be a possible winner of Milan-San Remo two years ago, but an unfortunate touch of wheel just as the final sprint was winding up put him down on the tarmac. He was in tears then, he’s probably pretty choked up now about missing the big show.
Then there is the not-quite-100%-percent category. Here we can throw in former winner Alexander Kristoff, who claims he has largely recovered from sickness and is ready to be a major player once the finish in San Remo draws near. He says his Bahrain squad has enough firepower to keep him at the front until it’s time for him to take San Remo by the horns. Is he really truly recovered because 93% will not get the job done.
Michael Matthews will lead the Sunweb squad but the question remains as to whether he can shoulder the responsibility. He fractured his shoulder at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and then had to abandon Tirreno-Adriatico with an illness. You have to wonder if the legs will be there on the Poggio when the shit hits all the fans.
That puts the radiating-wellness Peter Sagan (Bora Hansgrohe) and the beaming-with-health Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) as the runaway favorites. They’re not only extremely talented but both having functioning immune systems.