Classics Season: Milan – San Remo race report by Joe Bishop

Continental Race Report: Milan – San Remo

Joe Bishop

Mark Cavendish has only cried after winning a race three times in his career. The first time was after winning the Madison in the track world championships in 2005, and the second was after his first Tour de France stage win in 2008. The third time was after he crossed the line of Milan – San Remo (2009) in first place. Cavendish is not a sensitive man, and this emphasises just how magnificent a win in San Remo is.

It is the first monument of the season, of which there are five. These monuments are all one-day classics that have earned their title as a result of a rich history, a brutal course, and a romance that can bring tears to the eyes of its participants. Milan – San Remo is known as the sprinter’s monument, as it often finishes in a bunch sprint, unlike so many other one-day races. The course rarely varies, and this year’s parcors was almost identical to those in previous years. An immense 291km lay ahead of the riders at the start in Milan, with the main action set to take place on the coast. Being ‘The Sprinter’s Classic’, the climbs are kept to a minimum, but that’s not to say that the peloton isn’t challenged. The last two ascents are the most well known. First comes the Cipressa: 5.6km at 4%. To put that into perspective, Mill Hill in Shoreham is 4.2 km at 3%. Finally, with only 9.7km to go, the riders have to tackle the Poggio (4km at 3.7%). If an attacker wins, this is where they will most likely have launched their winning move.

At the start, almost every rider wanted the win, but it was hard to find someone more desperate than Tinkoff’s Peter Sagan, who is yet to cross the line first whilst wearing his rainbow jersey. Standing in his way was Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), who beat him at Omloop Het Niewsblad earlier in the season. Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) also lined up on the back of a productive Paris-Nice, as well as Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Michael Matthews (Orica), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek). There were also some dark horses, including former Tour De France winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), world omnium champion Fernando Gaviria (Etixx), Boasson-Hagen (Dimension Data), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and French sprinter Arnaud Démare (FDJ). Paris-Nice winner Geraint Thomas of Wales led Team Sky, who were not without options: Michal Kwiatwoski, Ben Swift and Elia Viviani all started for the British outfit.

The race got underway in sunshine and warm weather – disappointing for the viewers who were hoping for a repeat of the 2014 edition when heavy snow fell on the Italian coast. A group of eleven broke away from the bunch, containing no real contenders – although that didn’t stop them from stretching their advantage to over five minutes. They could not hold onto the lead however, and soon after the climb of the Capo Berta, the riders were all back together.

As the riders were approaching the Cipressa, tensions were clearly rising, with Michael Matthews and Arnaud Démare both being brought down in a crash. Luckily, neither was hurt, and they managed to climb back onto their bikes and attempt to claw their way back to the peloton. Meanwhile, on the Cippressa, Visconti (Movistar) attacked from the main group, and only Ian Stannard (Sky) could follow. The pair led over the top, but the open and flat road to the final climb always favoured the peloton, and the two were quickly swallowed up. Behind the action, Démare seemed to be having the ride of his life, managing to bridge the gap back to the peloton. On the Poggio, Katusha set a steady tempo, trying to set up their leader and 2014 winner Kristoff. It was too steady for Michal Kwiatwoski though, who soared clear and momentarily seemed to have broken the elastic, but it was not be, as he was caught over the top of the climb.

Approaching the finish, there was no doubt in the race yet again ending with a sprint finish. Colombian fast-finisher Gaviria seemed to be in a perfect position with less than a kilometre to go, but a lack of concentration lead to him hitting the deck and consequently causing the group to split up. Amid the confusion, Jürgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) started to accelerate, with Démare glued to his wheel. Coming up to the line, the Frenchman went full gas, emerging from Roelandts’ slipstream to power clear and take a surprise victory. Ben Swift sprinted well to steal a superb second place, with Roelandts holding on for third. Just after those three came Bouhanni, Van Avermaet and Kristoff. Démare was understandably overwhelmed, having never won a Grand Tour stage – let alone a monument.

It wasn’t all smiles for Démare though, as shortly after the finish, allegations of wrongdoing started to fly his way. Fillipo Pozzato (Tinkoff) and a few other riders claimed to have seen him being towed back to the peloton by his team car after the crash. Démare was not penalised however, as the race referees stated that without visual proof, no judgement could be made.

The next monument will follow shortly. It’s the Tour of Flanders, one of the most talked-about races on the cycling calendar. Favourites include Alexander Kristoff, Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen, and of course, Peter Sagan.