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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Sunday, March 21, 2021

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Milan-Sanremo team reports

We posted the report from winner Jasper Stuyven's Trek-Segafredo team with the results.

Here's the race organizer's 2021 Milano-Sanremo summary:

Before the race, Heinrich Haussler (TBV) said, “Over the years, it’s become more of a harder race, more of a puncheur’s race, and less for the sprinters.” Alexander Kristoff (UAD), one of the 7 former  Milano Sanremo winners at the start, agreed: “There hasn’t been a bunch sprint for many years, and I think the level of the puncheurs is really high. They’ve opened a gap on the Poggio and we haven’t manage to get back.”

But this year’s Milano San Remo was decided – or perhaps we should say “undecided” – by an out and out sprinter, for Caleb Ewan’s presence in the final selection complicated  the thought processes of the other favourites, already dimmed after 295 km in the saddle. After the race, Wout Van Aert, third, said, “It was difficult to take the right decision in the end.”

Aye, there’s the rub.

Ligurian coast

Is there a prettier place to race than the Ligurian coast? RCS photo

The early breakaway formed in the first kilometres. Three of the eight were in last year’s breakaway: Alessandro Tonelli (BCF), Charles Planet (NTT), who today joined his third breakaway in six Milano Sanremos, and Filippo Tagliani (ANS), who chased and chased, and finally made the group at km 15. The others in the group were Mattia Viel (ANS), Taco Van Der Hoorn (IWG), Mathias Norsgaard (MOV), Andrea Peron (NTT) and Nicola Conci (TFS). Those eight led the peloton by 7’35” at km 30 (269 km to go . The gap stabilised at around 6’20”, with Tim Declercq (DQT), Senne Leysen (AFC) and Paul Martens (TJV) installed at the front of the peloton for much of the day.

The leaders’ average speed of 42.6 kph for the first hour never relented. after four hours, it was 42.75 kph, and from then, it only increased. By the finish, the average, 45.064 kph, made it the third fastest Milano Sanremo of all time. And that, of couse, made for ever more fatigued minds in worn down bodies.

Mattia Viel was the first to drop out of the breakaway, with 60 km remaining. Next was Andrea Peron (NTT), with 52 km remaining. With 28 km to go, Taco Van Der Hoorn (IWG) rode off alone. On the Cipressa, with 24.4 km to go, Sam Oomen and Wout Van Aert led the peloton past Tonelli, then Van Der Hoorne, and it was quickly forgotten that the breakaway had ever taken place.

Alberto Bettiol (EFN) and Fernando Gaviria (UAD) were two of the victims of the pace on the Cipressa. Luke Rowe (IGD) led the peloton on the descent from the Cipressa. Just before the tunnel that precedes the Poggio, his team mate Filippo Ganna replaced him at the front, winning the subsequent drag race with Jasper Asgreen to reach the foot of the Poggio climb first. On the lower slopes Tim Wellens was 2nd, with his team-mate Caleb Ewan 4th. Van Aert rode glued to Alaphilippe’s wheel while, at the other end of the peloton, Elia Viviani (COF) was dropped.

With 6.5 km to go, the inevitable Alaphilippe darted away. Van Aert allowed him not a millimetre’s freedom. Behind them, Démare, Van Der Poel, Schachman and Kwiatkowski were never far away, and the move closed down with Caleb Ewan, incredibly, on Van Aert’s wheel, threatening to make his own acceleration. After the stage, he admitted, ‘I’ve practised that attack on the Poggio many times before this race.” On the descent, inside the final 5 km, Tom Pidcock plummeted down, almost daring the others to stay with him.

A group of about 13 formed at the front. 200m from the foot of the Poggio, while they – meaning Pidcock, Alaphilippe, Van Aert, Caleb Ewan, Van Der Poel, Schachmann, Kragh Andersen, Matthew, Aranburu, Colbrelli, Trentin and the rest – looked around to see who was there and who was not, and wondered what to do about Caleb Ewan, Jasper Stuyven eased passed Alaphilippe… and sprinted.

There were about 3.4 km to go. Pidcock gave chase with Turgis on his wheel, then desisted. Schachmann set off with Matthews on his wheel, then sat up. Van Avermaet followed, with Wout Van Aert just behind, but no one was ready to commit.

Then, with 1.5 km to go, Søren Kragh Andersen (DSM) darted away in pursuit. Pidcock went after him, but he had Van Aert on his wheel, so relented. Under the flamme rouge, Kragh Andersen reache Stuyven, visibly weakening now. Their advantage was perhaps 2 seconds, but the chasers were looking back, not forwards.

Around the final left-right chicane, Stuyven led Kragh Andersen, until the Dane found himself stranded at the front. As the chaseres dithered, they added to their lead.

Van Der Poel unleashed his sprint with perhaps 250m to go, but too late: with 100m to go, Stuyven darted past Kragh Andersen, who had nothing left. Ewan and Van Aert swamped Van Der Poel for 2nd and 3rd, but there was no doubt about the winner.

Jasper Stuyven, the 2009 junior world champion, who then won the 2010 junior Paris-Roubaix in the rainbow jersey, has often flattered to deceive. When Mads Pedersen joined Trek-Segafredo, he fell under Stuyven’s spell, but it was the Dane who became the world champion. Sometimes called the champion without a jersey for his attitude, Stuyven today has proven his class with a clever win, all thanks to clarity of mind, despite the fatigue.

Second-place Caleb Ewan's Lotto Soudal team sent me this report:

Lotto Soudal rider Caleb Ewan came close to victory at Milan-Sanremo today after the Australian impressed in the final of the race. The 26-year-old Australian was part of a select group that remained after the ascent of the Poggio. In the tactical final kilometres, it was the Belgian Jasper Stuyven who attacked and just held off the chasing group to win Milan-Sanremo. Caleb Ewan still delivered an impressive sprint, but - just like in 2018 - the Lotto Soudal rider had to settle for second place.

Team lotto-Soudal

Team Lotto Soudal is presented before the race start. Sirotti photo

“The first time I finished second in 2018, I thought it was a good result as it was only my second participation in La Primavera. Now, it’s a major disappointment”, begins Caleb Ewan. “That second place in 2018 confirmed that I could potentially win the race one day and that is why most years, Milan-Sanremo is a main goal for me. I knew I was coming into the race with good form and this year, I really tried to improve my climbing. I even practiced that attack on the Poggio many times.”

As the peloton charged towards the foot of the Poggio, Ewan was brought in perfect position by Tim Wellens. The Australian was one of the first riders to begin the all-important climb. Even after several attacks, Ewan remained at the very front of the race and was part of a select group that would battle for victory. In the descent, Jasper Stuyven attacked, which caused some hesitation in the chasing group. Kragh Andersen was the only rider to bridge to the Belgian, who managed to just stay ahead of the chasing group. Caleb Ewan still launched a powerful acceleration, but eventually came just a couple of metres short of winning Milan-Sanremo.

Caleb Ewan: “I was in a really good position during most parts of the Poggio and when they went, I was obviously suffering a bit but I still had enough left to follow them and I was actually quite comfortable. Of course, it would have been nice to have one teammate left in the final kilometres.”

“In this situation, it’s always a lottery and you just have to wait and take the risk. I took it and did what I needed to do to win. Jasper was just too far in front and I definitely don’t have any regrets. There was a lot of looking around and in the end, we waited just a little too long. But if I would have gone earlier, I maybe would have faded in the end. Nevertheless, it’s a disappointing result”, concludes Caleb Ewan.

Sports director Mario Aerts was satisfied after Milan-Sanremo: “This was a nice collective performance. Caleb was really strong on the Poggio and I am really impressed by his performance. Going into the race, Caleb already said he felt good and he showed a lot of confidence too.”

Philippe Gilbert however, was not satisfied with his performance: “I am very disappointed. I thought I had good legs, but in the end I just didn’t have the energy to play a role in the race. It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of motivation, but I just missed a pair of good legs today. Of course, it wasn’t my best Milan-Sanremo, but it was still nice to have this day in the legs for the races to come.”

Here's the report from third-place Wout van Aert's Jumbo-Visma team:

Wout van Aert has crossed the finish line in third place in a tactical Milan-Sanremo. Last year’s winner went on the attack with Julian Alaphilippe on the Poggio, but had to watch in the final as Jasper Stuyven stayed ahead of the group of favourites.

After the traditional early breakaway was caught on the Cipressa, they stayed together until two kilometres before the top of the Poggio. Van Aert showed off his good legs with a few pinpricks, but did not get away. He was eventually beaten by Caleb Ewan in the sprint for second place.

Wout van Aert

Wout van Aert picks up his bike before heading to the start line. Sirotti photo

“I had the legs to win, but I was caught”, Van Aert said. “Milaan-San Remo is a very difficult course to win and I gambled and lost in the final. I also didn’t want to throw away my sprinting chances to ride full behind Jasper with the rest in my wake. A lot of people were looking at me and that’s logical of course. On the Poggio I tried, but we were still with too many guys. I expected a bigger shake-up, but apparently the conditions were not tough enough. I’m disappointed that I didn’t win, but I don’t know if I could have done something different. All in all, I can’t be unhappy with this third place. My form is fine and I’m looking forward to the Flemish classics with confidence.”

Here's the report from 4th place Peter Sagan's Bora-hansgrohe team:

It was going to be a massive day in the saddle for the riders at the 2021 Milano-Sanremo, with 299km to contend with in what has been regarded as ‘the sprinters classic’.  Easily the longest race on the cycling calendar, riders would also have to ascend a number of climbs before the finale in Sanremo, the last of these being the famous Poggio, where the race always explodes one way or another.

Even with the prospect of nearly seven hours’ racing, the break made their move as soon as the flag dropped to start the day, with eight riders building an enormous advantage of 7:30 with less than 20km covered. Even at this early stage, the peloton was spurred on to bring them to a more manageable distance, but it wasn’t until the race was three-quarters over and the climbing started that this gap dropped to less than two minutes. Here, Peter Sagan, Pascal Ackermann and Maximilian Schachmann were present in the main bunch representing BORA-hansgrohe and had done well to save their energy, protected by their teammates, before the speeds really ramped up – as if the peloton weren’t already covering the kilometres at a blistering pace.

Maciej Bodnar, Marcus Burghardt and Daniel Oss were putting the pressure on the break, riding hard on the front of the bunch as the escapees began to fall off the back on the climbs, making the catch with 24km to go. Pascal took to the front on the Cipressa, before Marcus Burghardt battled to keep his teammates safe to the foot of the Poggio, where positioning was absolutely essential. Maximilian, Peter and Pascal were up at the front with the favourites here, the high speeds making an attack almost impossible, but when they came, Maximilian and Peter were ready, matching their rivals as the descent into Sanremo began, the bunch stretching and regrouping as the attacks came and were pulled back.

The day was going to be decided by a sprint, and the Slovak rider put his pedal to the metal, surging to fourth in a super strong effort, his teammates Maximilian and Pascal taking 14th and 20th respectively to mark an excellent ride from the whole team.

Jasper Stuyven

Peter Sagan can be seen on the far left. Sirotti photo

From the Finish Line:
"It was a bittersweet Milano-Sanremo for me. On the one hand, I'm happy because I'm feeling better and my form is gradually improving, although there is still work to be done to reach a top level. On the other hand, I'm a bit angry because it was another Milano-Sanremo where I missed the chance to get a victory. We worked very well throughout the day, everybody in the team put in a great effort. When the attack was made on the Poggio, a small group went away and I was in the one right behind, together with other strong riders. We didn't respond to the attack, either because we couldn't or because we felt we would bridge the gap on the descent. In fact, the two front groups merged and it was clear we would go for a fast sprint finish. I gave my best in the sprint and finished fourth." – Peter Sagan

"Overall, it was a very good race from the whole team. Our plan was to have Max and Peter in the finale and we also gave Pascal the possibility not to work. The rest of the squad, Burghardt, Oss, Bodnar, and Benedetti did a perfect job. We stayed in a good position all day and in the finale we were always there. There was a small dangerous situation when Peter found himself in the second group after Cipressa but Benedetti was with him and worked to take him to the front. On the Poggio, Max was very strong, responded to all the attacks while Peter came back. In the end, he had a strong sprint and took fourth. That's a very nice result after his sickness and the hard times he went through in the last weeks and months. A little bit more was possible, we saw he was very fast, and that was nice. Once again, we are happy with the work of the team." – Enrico Poitschke, Sports Director

Julian Alaphilippe's Deceuninck-Quick Step team posted this race report:

Julian Alaphilippe came into the 112th edition of Milano-Sanremo as one of the riders to watch and the Frenchman lived up to the expectations, throwing the gauntlet on the Poggio, one kilometer from the top of the iconic Ligurian climb. His powerful attack forced a major selection, just like at the past editions, only a dozen riders being capable of matching the solid tempo pushed by the rainbow jersey.

The leaders carried a handful of seconds onto the descent, and for a moment it looked like they would be joined by the chasers, but a series of attacks at the front changed the momentum back into their favour and the gap expanded to ten seconds. Inside the last two kilometers, at the bottom of the descent, Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) took off from the group and opened up a sizeable gap as he entered the Via Roma. Alaphilippe was one of the few to chase and his valiant effort saw the buffer being reduced to just a few seconds on the finishing straight, but the Belgian prevailed in the end.

Julian concluded the season’s first Monument as Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s best-placed rider, and right after the finish he was quick to share his thoughts on the 300km-long race and praise his Wolfpack teammates for their phenomenal work.

Julian Alaphilippe

Alaphilippe finishes the race. Sirotti photo

“I was focused on doing a good race the entire race and was always well-positioned in the bunch, which happened thanks to my teammates. They deserve a big bravo, because they were once again amazing in the way they rode at the front, chased down the breakaway and kept me out of the wind. I gave my best today, made my move on the Poggio, but it didn’t work out. I am not disappointed, because I did everything that was possible”, explained Alaphilippe. “I am content with my Italian campaign, which included that nice Tirreno-Adriatico stage victory, and I am now moving my focus to the Belgian Classics. I look forward to recovering and my next race, Dwars door Vlaanderen, at the end of the month.”

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