Julian Alaphilippe of Deceuninck-Quick Step has won Milan-San Remo. The Frenchman took his seventh win of the season after overcoming Oliver Naesen of AG2R La Mondiale and Michal Kwiatkowski of Team Sky, with Peter Sagan finishing 4th and Matej Mohorič 5th for Bahrain-Merida.
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At 291km in length, Milan-San Remo is the longest one-day classic in professional cycling. New Zealand’s favourite Aussie, Robert Stannard of Mitchelton-SCOTT, was the only rider from our shores racing La Classicissimo; debuting at one of the world’s most prestigious events. Riders got underway in great conditions with a large breakaway of 10 riders gaining a 10 minute lead. Best represented in the break were Novo Nordisk, who had Joonas Henttala, Umberto Poli Andrea Peron and Charles Planet in the move, alongside Fausto Masnada of Androni Giocattoli, Luca Raggio and Sebastian Schönberger of Neri Sottoli, Alessandro Tonelli and Mirco Maestri of Bardiani CSF, and Guy Sagiv of the Israel Cycling Academy.
The initial pace was set primarily by BORA-Hansgrohe and Deceuninck-QuickStep, two teams who – like many – could easily lean on multiple riders to lead at the end of the race. BORA-Hansgrohe had three-time world champion Peter Sagan but also the in-form Irishman Sam Bennett, while Deceuninck-QuickStep had an abundance of riches in the likes of Julian Alaphilippe, Elia Viviani, Philippe Gilbert and Zdenek Stybar all arriving in Milan on the back of wins earlier in the season.
Masnada the last man standing from break
They were joined by Lotto Soudal, with last year’s runner-up Caleb Ewan in their ranks, and UAE Team Emirates working for Fernando Gaviria and Alexander Kristoff, and with 92km to go the gap had come down to 4.40mins. The peloton were racing along at a rapid pace exceeding 50kph at this point, but they were all largely together through the long and largely flat roads between the Passo del Turchino that peaked at 143km an the run in towards the Cipressa that began with 27km remaining.
With 50km left to race the gap to the break had come down to just over 2.30mins. The leaders were still together and working well as they began the lumpy run in to the Cipressa, while back in the peloton it was still the same four teams sending delegates to the front of the race while behind them Direct Energie had a strong presence towards the front along with AG2R La Mondiale and Katusha-Alpecin.
At 43km to go the escapees’ lead was down beneath 2 minutes and on the rise up the Capo Berta the break finally broke apart with Sebastian Schönberger breaking free on the 1.7km climb in the company of Fausto Masnada who bridged the gap. Behind them the race was on for positions with Groupama-FDJ and Mitchelton-SCOTT both piling on the pace at the head of the peloton. Up front Masnada was the stronger of the two leaders, and he quickly dropped his companion and made his way onward solo with a 16 second advantage over the remnants of the group; and a 1.17min lead over the bunch who were flying.
It took to the 32km mark before the gap to Masnada finally dropped to under a minute with the Cipressa just 10km away. The Tour of Hainan winner last year was fully committed to his effort, but so too were the three-pronged attack of Mitchelton-SCOTT, Groupama-FDJ and Team Sky. They would let Masnada dangle out in front up to the lower slopes of the Cipressa but from there the catch was made with Astana leading the way along with Team Sunweb at 25.5km to go.
Bonifazio launches on Cipressa descent
So far with the lack of major rise in tempo on the climb, the sprinters would certainly have found the race to their liking so far as the whole peloton continued to work its way onwards largely together. The odd rider here and there were beginning to find the going to tough at the back of the race, understandable with 265km of racing in the legs, but the summit was reached with no major attack launched.
Instead it was on the descent of the Cippressa where the first big move was made. Niccolo Bonifazio of Direct Energie plummeted down the descent and quickly building a handy advantage while behind him Philippe Gilbert led the chase for Deceuninck-QuickStep. The lead for the Italian quickly built to 12 seconds, while the peloton behind him split quite significantly and dangerously for a number of riders. Caleb Ewan and Lotto Soudal were caught out by the split and worked hard to bridge back on and then post Ewan right at the front of the race behind his train. Also struggling to come back on board were Dylan Groenewegen of Jumbo-Visma and Nacer Bouhanni of Cofidis.
At 15km to go Bonifazio’s lead was out to 15 seconds and the masses were swarming behind him with CCC Team, Astana, Lotto Soudal, Bahrain-Merida, Movistar, all among those contending for the front position. The positional chess game allowed Bonifazio to build his lead out to 22 seconds but inevitably the run in to the Poggio decimated that lead as Daryl Impey positioned Matteo Trentin of Mitchelton-SCOTT perfectly, so too Team Sky for Michal Kwiatkowski, Deceuninck-QuickStep for Julian Alaphilippe with Elia Viviani conspicuously absent, in fact he was way out of position about 50-60 riders back.
Alaphilippe sublime on Poggio, takes 7th season win
Luke Rowe hit the bottom of the Poggio hard, with Zdenek Stybar and Alaphilippe taking over. Julian Alaphilippe, Alejandro Valverde, Wout van Aert, Caleb Ewan, Vincenzo Nibali were all in contention as the bunch began to tire. A moment of reluctance from Deceuninck-QuickStep saw a big move from EF Education First’s Alberto Bettiol. Julian Alaphilippe reacted and danced away from the Italian, forcing the issue from Peter Sagan and a select group who bridged across.
Alaphilippe’s selection would be decisive as a group began the descent with Oliver Naesen, Peter Sagan, Matteo Trentin, Wout van Aert, Michal Kwiatkowski, Alejandro Valverde all in the lead group. Their slightly cautious approach to the descent, however, allowed Tom Dumoulin of Team Sunweb, Vincenzo Nibali and Matej Mohoric of Bahrain-Merida, Simon Clarke of EF Education First to join on and eventually a group of 10 made their way onwards.
Matteo Trentin, possibly faring the sprint of Sagan, made a powerful kick for home with 2km to go; making Wout van Aert come across to lead the chase. His catch was countered by Matej Mohoric with Julian Alaphilippe on his wheel and then Peter Sagan in a perfect position but then suddenly forced to lead the sprint out.
Sagan slowed, looking confident of his ability to take the sprint, but he’d left the door slightly open on his left for Mohoric and Alaphilippe to go on his left while he looked right. It was the delay that possibly cost him victory as Alaphilippe launched off Mohoric with Naesen in tow and then Kwiatkowski. Sagan finally began starting to pick his way through the riders but had to settle for fourth as the Frenchman powered away to an emotional win ahead of Naesen and 2017 champion Kwiatkowski.
After supporting teammate Matteo Trentin to 10th place, Robert Stannard crossed the line at the end of his first Milan-San Remo in 120th place, alongside teammate and Santos Tour Down Under winner Daryl Impey, in a group that included the last man standing in the break Fausto Masnada.