Milano-Sanremo: Bad luck ruins Gilbert’s chances
Elia Viviani is Quick-Step Floors' best finisher at the 109th "La Classicissima".
Heavy rain welcomed the riders Saturday morning in Milan, as they lined up at the start of Milano-Sanremo, one of cycling's oldest and most prestigious races, which rolled out from the shadow of Castello Sforzesco and took the riders on a 294km trek to the Italian Riviera.
Nine men snapped the elastic early and put some seven minutes between them and the peloton, but the chasers were always in firm control, as several teams including Quick-Step Floors – represented at the front by a tireless Tim Declercq, a debutant at "La Primavera" – set a steady tempo behind the escapees, who got reeled in after the Tre Capi, with 30 kilometers to go.
Cipressa – the hill first used at the 1982 edition – didn't bring anything new, which meant Poggio (3.7km, 3.7%) was to play again a huge role in the outcome, and so it did, first with a crash which took several riders to the ground and delayed others, including Philippe Gilbert, and then with an attack of Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), who opened a 12-second lead by the time he crested the summit, before hurtling down the tricky descent.
Quick-Step Floors got organized at the front as soon as the bunch hit the flat section leading to the iconic Via Roma, with Julian Alaphilippe and Maximiliano Richeze doing a tremendous job for Elia Viviani, best sprinter of the season so far, but just as Nibali was preparing to celebrate his win, a chaotic finale unfolded, leaving every man for himself.
"The entire team did a great race today, and Julian and Max really rode their heart out in the closing kilometers. We tried to go for the victory and I had to do a long sprint, but my legs just didn't help after 300 tough kilometers. Maybe we could have stayed low profile in the closing kilometers and fight for a top 10, but we wanted the win today, so that' why we pushed hard. I'm disappointed, but proud of my teammates", said Elia Viviani, 19th at the finish.
Last season, Julian Alaphilippe was in the mix for the win, finishing third at his Milano-Sanremo debut after an eye-catching ride. This time, the 25-year-old Frenchman – who was still recovering after a cold and wet Paris-Nice – put himself at the team's disposal in the crucial kilometers of the race.
"It was a difficult day, with tough weather conditions. On the Poggio I was tenth wheel or so when Nibali attacked, but when I realized he had gone, it was too late to close the gap. With the guys of Bora-hansgrohe controlling things, I decided to help my teammates in the final and gave my all for Elia. Considering all that has happened in the past days, when I couldn't train properly because I was sick, I think I did a good race today."
Milano-Sanremo was Philippe Gilbert's 45th start in a Monument, and the experienced Belgian was keen on fighting to win the season's longest one-day race for the first time in his career, after coming on the podium in 2007 and 2011, but things didn't play out in his favour, as he got caught behind a crash in a crucial moment of the race, just before the Poggio, and lost any chance of coming back.
On the Via Roma, the Belgian shrugged off the disappointment and gave his take on what happened in the business end of the Italian Classic: "When Cavendish crashed, I was just behind him and managed to somehow squeeze and make it through, but lost some positions and couldn't return to the front, as the bunch was going full gas. Before the race, I thought about trying something from afar, but with the strong headwind on the Cipressa it was impossible, there really wasn't any opportunity to attack. I'll take from this race the fact that I felt good, despite the rain and the cold temperatures, and look now with optimism to my next races."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele/ Getty Images