Also known as "La Primavera" (Italian for the season of Spring), this race is one of five one-day races that holds a special, prestigious status. Along with the Tour of Flanders (the Ronde van Vlaanderen), Paris-Roubaix (the Hell of the North), Liege-Bastogne-Liege ("La Doyenne"), and the Giro di Lombardia (The Race of the Falling Leaves) - these Monuments of cycling are the most sought after one-day titles in the season.
On paper, MSR is a sprinter's race. But its sheer distance (an epic 293km) and a couple of short but nasty climbs at the end make it very difficult. For that reason, its always a very hard race to predict the winner.
The race really starts at the foot of the Cipressa, a 5km climb at the 270km mark. This where we'll find out who has anything left in their legs. Whoever is left then has to get over the Poggio, a short, sharp 4km climb with less than 10km to go. The victor is often amongst the first few over the top of this final ascent.
As always though, there are a few favourites, and some smokeys that we'll be watching.
Who will win? The Big Three
Alexander Kristoff (Team Katusha) is the defending champion, and has started off the season in terrific form. Technically a sprinter, but his strength is, well, his strength. He is best in difficult sprints, where the pure sprinters have already fallen by the wayside. Will be very hard to beat again this year.
Kristoff winning ahead of Peter Sagan in the Tour of Switzerland last year
Cavendish (far left), with team-mates Kwiatkowsky (world champ stripes) & Stybar (far right)
Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) is, without question, the strongest rider in the race. But pure srength doesn't win it, and Fabian has had a frustrating and cruel run of podium places here. Will be there at the end, but we'll see if he can snaffle the chocolates...
Fabian Cancellara, aka Fabs or Spartacus
Michael Matthews (Orica-Greenedge) has clear team leader status for this race with the injury to Simon Gerrans. A sprinter very much in the style of Kristoff, the young Australian is in terrific form and is riding with confidence. I'd love to see a great result for him here.
Matthews winning a stage of the Giro d'Italia ahead of Cadel Evans last year
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) has been in outstanding form, and looked fantastic in the Paris-Nice stage race while riding in support of team-mate (& Australian) Ritchie Porte. Juan-Jose Lobato (Movistar) also looks good, as does former world champ Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida).
Where to Watch?
For my fellow Australians, the race is being telecast live (to Eastern States and South Australia) on SBS from 11:45pm on Sunday night. Have a thermos of coffee and some Timtams ready for what should be an outstanding night of racing!!