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As the first Monument of the season, the racing at the 107th Milano-Sanremo was always going to be fast and frenetic. In a race that saw strong efforts from the team to deliver Peter Sagan to Sanremo, a crash a few hundred metres before the finish threw the World Champion off his line and saw him come in outside the top ten.
In a race like Milano-Sanremo, the outcome is never going to be certain. While the course was flat by the standards of other races, the fact that the race takes place over a 291km route means anything can happen – especially over the race’s final climbs, the Cipressa and the infamous Poggio, where riders will be on the edge of exhaustion. The longest one-day race in the world, ‘La Classicissima’ was made 4km longer after a mudslide forced the race’s organisers to divert the route.
As was expected, a breakaway formed early on, but in a race like Milano-Sanremo, the teams know how unlikely it is for a break to stick. 45km before the finish and just before the ascent of the Capo Berta, Tinkoff, who had already been controlling the race from its start, upped the pace to bring the break in, ultimately catching them on the Cipressa with 25km to go.
The breakaway caught, the big names started to attack, looking to create some ground on the peloton before the Poggio in the hope their attacks might stick. While the attacks came thick and fast, Tinkoff kept their heads and worked to bring their team leader to the top of the Poggio before starting the long downhill to the finish – a move that put Peter Sagan in the bunch for the final sprint. With just a few hundred metres remaining, a crash in front of Peter forced him to deviate from his line as the bunch sprint started.
“As I have always said the Milano-Sanremo is unpredictable and that’s why I find it futile to talk about my goals two-three days in advance.” said Peter Sagan, after the race. “I did my best, the squad did a very good job but that’s racing.”
Giving some insight into the last kilometres, Peter continued. “When Fabian attacked, I said to the others that if we let him go, the Milano-Sanremo is over. I think I was the only one able to catch him and then we broke away with Boasson Hagen, Gaviria and then, I think, Trentin. With 400-500 meters to go, Gaviria turned to check upon the group that was coming from behind and fell. That was it. I barely avoided crashing myself but I lost so much speed that I was unable to catch up in the closing 300 metres. That’s why, even if you are in excellent form, a race will never be easy.”
Sport Director, Patxi Villa, had high hopes for the team after a strong performance during the earlier stages of the race. “It’s a real shame, but we did everything that we could have done today. Until the first big crash everything was going well for us. We took control of the race from the beginning, with Manuele Boaro doing an amazing job, pulling for 240kms. Everything was under control.”
The team had been riding strongly throughout the day, protecting their leader and making sure he was where he needed to be. Patxi continued. “But then Daniele Bennati was involved in the crash. He was the guy who we had planned to bring the guys to Poggio, and then it was Roman Kreuziger and Oscar Gatto to go from there. But Roman had to take his place to the climb, leaving only Oscar for the Poggio.”
After the race, Oscar Gatto, who had played an important role in getting Peter to the top of the Poggio, said “As I said a few days ago, victory is made of a number of components and luck is one of them. Unfortunately, this component is taking time to come. We will stay focused on the path we have been so far. The team is performing well and I’m convinced the results will come. The beautiful but unfortunate fact about the Milano-Sanremo is that it remains wide open. We are strong, Peter is strong but again we need a bit of luck. We will keep fighting and I think that before mid April we will get the result we look forward to.”
Patxi was quick to praise the team for their efforts throughout the race. “They all did a fantastic job regardless, and at the end when Peter had to respond to the attacks he was in control. But after almost seven hours of racing you can lose everything in just 300m. When the crash at the end happened the sprint was opening up on the other side of the road and Peter’s chances were over. But I have to say that the guys did a fantastic job today. Everyone was 200% committed to executing the plan and doing what we had to do. Today we were unlucky.”