Featured image courtesy of getty images
Have you got your breath back after that? The route might have been changed, it might be August instead of March but regardless Milano-Sanremo produced an epic finish. Cycling is so unpredictable but in the end the pre-race favourite won the day!
Wout Van Aert backs up his Strade Bianche victory last weekend to secure his first Monument – an incredible feat for the former cyclocross world champion.
Here are the five talking points from the 111th edition.
1 – A new cyclocross rivalry for the Classics
As the races go by it just gets better and better for the young man. After his horror crash at the Tour de France last year things looked bleak for Wout Van Aert, talk of his career maybe over!
His comeback from injury is nothing more than remarkable – taking Strade Bianche last weekend, finishing third in Milano-Torino midweek and now Van Aert has his first career Monument.
Fellow cyclocross rival Mathieu van der Poel announced his arrival at the Spring Classics last year and in Wout Van Aert he’s announcing himself too! Between the two riders they now have five career Classics to their name – the difference being that Van Aert rides for a World Tour team, van der Poel doesn’t. It’ll take time for the Dutchman to win more Classics but with Van Aert winning them now – this is a new head-to-head which we’re all going to have to get familiar with!
Mathieu van der Poel will win a Monument in his career no question, Wout Van Aert now has one in the bag – the pair of them are ripping up the record books. First Dutchman since Erik Dekker in 2001 to win the Amstel Gold Race and now the first Belgian to win Milano-Sanremo since Andrei Tchmil in 1999.
Wout Van Aert has done the double, winning Strade Bianche and then the next weekend a Monument – it doesn’t get any sweeter than that. He’ll ride the Tour de France and who knows what he’ll do. With the Ardennes Classics and the cobbles still to come (fingers crossed), Van Aert and van der Poel battling it out – so many entertaining races to come!
2 – Julian Alaphilippe is back!
After suffering from several punctures at Strade Bianche that wasn’t really a good indicator of form for Julian Alaphilippe.
The defending Milan-Sanremo champion showed exactly that after attacking near enough as he did last year on the Poggio followed by Van Aert. Alaphilippe looked strong, Deceuninck Quick-Step did an amazing job to put him in the perfect position but just pipped to the line by Wout Van Aert.
The Frenchman came so close to becoming the first rider since Erik Zabel in 2001 to win back-to-back Milan-Sanremo editions but not it wasn’t to be. More Monuments are easily achievable but we now know that Alaphilippe should seriously hit peak form when the Tour begins on the 29th August.
After producing a heroic display in the yellow jersey last year, there is every chance he could go one better despite Alaphilippe himself saying he’s not targeting the GC. Are we convinced? The 2020 Tour is tailor-made for Julian Alaphilippe and he’s a contender to win the yellow jersey.
3 Trek Segafredo and Daniel Oss with impressive performances
In Vincenzo Nibali, Trek-Segafredo had the biggest option in front of them – a former winner in 2018 and a rider who’s looking for success at the Giro this year.
Nibali himself may not have finished in the top ten but we did see glimpses of fantastic efforts from other members of the team. Nicola Conci put in a brave attack and on the Poggio Giulio Ciccone gave it a go – Ciccone himself could be someone to look out for at Milan-Sanremo in the future.
Praise must go to Bora Hansgrohe’s Daniel Oss who certainly made the contenders panic with a 15-second time gap before the Poggio. Working for Peter Sagan, Oss deserves ride of the day.
4 – Michael Matthews slips onto the podium
Going into the race, Team Sunweb had their options in former Strade Bianche winner Tiesj Benoot but also Michael Matthews, the type of fast finisher who can also get over climbs. The Australian won the sprint for third place and his early form will be pleasing.
Three times world champion Peter Sagan continued his Milan-Sanremo hoodoo after coming fourth and Mitchelton-Scott will wonder how on earth did Dion Smith finish sixth – a decent result for the Kiwi.
He did finish inside the top ten but Philippe Gilbert’s wait to maybe add that elusive final Monument to complete the set goes on and unless I’m mistaken probably won’t ever happen as the field of contenders isn’t going to get any weaker or younger.
5 – No such luck for the pure sprinters
Since Arnaud Démare won in 2016, we haven’t seen a sprinter win Milan-Sanremo, so can the race really be considered a ‘sprinter’s classic’ anymore?
The highest placed sprinter was NTT Pro Cycling’s Giacomo Nizzolo, continuing his decent form but after him comes Démare himself who finished 24th.
Nacer Bouhanni finished 38th, Elia Viviani 39th, Sam Bennett struggled up the Poggio as did Fernando Gaviria and Caleb Ewan struggled up the Cipressa. Even former winner Alexander Kristoff came in 83rd place.
2017 was a three man breakaway, 2018 was a Vincenzo Nibali masterclass and 2019 saw a ten man selective group of all-rounders and mountain goats. It seems as if bunch sprints are no longer the norm at Milan-Sanremo but could the six-man team sizes have hampered their chances today?
There is still hope for the fast men as future editions of Milan-Sanremo will be back in March, but also look at previous results and you’ll see that since 2016, the likes of Caleb Ewan, Alexander Kristoff and Fernando Gaviria have come close.
Are the all-rounders and climbers taking over? It’s an interesting question and a race that continues to fascinate year after year.
Next up: Criterium du Dauphine