At 305 kilometers, the peloton faced the longest edition in Milano – Sanremo history and with temperatures well above 30 degrees, the stage was set for one of the toughest Monuments in recent times.
The peloton enjoyed a relaxed but hot first five hours of the race with a seven-rider breakaway escaping down the road and maintaining a six-minute advantage for the first 200 kilometers.
Bad luck struck when Trentin crashed with 85 kilometers remaining after hitting a loose bottle on the road and was forced to abandon the race, suffering from a left knee contusion and nasty road rash but fortunately, no broken bones.
At the same time, the peloton began to increase the pace and eat into the breakaway’s lead and with 70 kilometers to go, teams started to battle for position at the front of the bunch.
Jonas Koch and Fausto Masnada took to the front of the peloton approaching the final 50 kilometers to assist with the chase and eventually, with 35 kilometers to go approaching the Cipressa, it was game over for the breakaway.
Michael Schär shepherded Van Avermaet on the run into the Cipressa, and at the foot of the climb, Loïc Vliegen (CWG) attacked and was joined by Jacopo Mosca (TSF).
A blistering pace was set on the Cipressa, causing many sprinters to drop, but with De Marchi, Masnada and Schär around him, Van Avermaet remained at the front of the bunch.
It all came down to the Poggio di Sanremo, where Julian Alaphilippe (DQT) launched an attack two kilometers from the summit and was joined by Wout van Aert (TJV). Behind, Van Avermaet dug deep to chase and was part of a select group that crested the climb around ten seconds behind.
The leading duo maintained a small lead on the descent and run into the finish and despite Van Avermaet’s group swelling in size, Van Aert and Alaphilippe managed to stay away to contest the win.
Van Aert proved to be the strongest on the day, taking the win ahead of Alaphilippe while behind, Van Avermaet sprinted to eighth place in what was a nail biting finish to the first Monument of the season, an epic seven hours, 16 minutes in the saddle.
Quotes from the Finish Line
Greg Van Avermaet:
“I had good feelings the whole race. I think we did quite well as team to always position ourselves well in the front. On the climbs, I was able to follow the best, just in the end when the two guys went, we had almost a crash, that’s why I had to brake a little bit. Then I was in the wind trying to close it but I could not come closer, that’s also why the gap was there. I’m a little it disappointed but in the end, I think the two strongest guys went away. I tried to do as good as possible in the second group hoping it would come back but they were super strong so they deserved to be on the podium. I’m quite happy with the race. I was happy I was in a good position on the Poggio because that’s important. A top ten place is not so bad in Milano – Sanremo. Today was much more enjoyable than Strade Bianche.It’s a hectic and fast race, a really special race, hard to compare with other races. I’ve done three races now and been in the top ten three times and I think I can build on that.”
“Physically I’m feeling pretty bad. It’s like a truck ran over me. But the good news is that nothing is broken. So I need to heal, take my time, and get ready for the next races. There was a bottle rolling in the middle of the road and I didn’t see it. When I saw it, it was too late. My shape was good, I was feeling good at that moment, it was 200km into the race so everything was still to come but I was confident. I think I can take an easy week now and restart again.”
Valerio Piva, Sports Director:
“It was very long and very hot but the team was prepared. Everyone was motivated and around Greg and Matteo. Of course, I am very disappointed because of Matteo’s crash. It was bad luck, a bottle was in front of his wheel and he crashed. I am happy that he was not badly inured. But, we lost one of our leaders. The team refocused and everyone was around Greg. They did a fantastic job to bring Greg in a good position. He was in the move of the Poggio and finished top ten. I am happy, we did a good race but didn’t have much luck but the riders did the maximum.”
Milano – Sanremo (305km)
Top 3: 1. Wout van Aert (TJV), 2. Julian Alaphilippe (DQT), 3. Michael Matthews (SUN)
CCC Team top 3: 8. Greg Van Avermaet, 31. Alessandro De Marchi, 49. Fausto Masnada