It was a day to remember for Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff, who took the biggest win of his career in a rain-soaked Milan-San Remo. Despite a frantic final few kilometres, no one managed to stay away out front, with the Norwegian capitalising in a sprint finish.
Kristoff takes the glory
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) certainly wasn’t one of the pre-race Milan San-Remo favourites, though the Norwegian rode an excellent race to defy the odds. Protected by a couple of teammates to the very last kilometre, his patience paid off as he outsprinted the likes of fifth-place finisher Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), last year’s winner and ninth-place finisher Gerald Ciolek (MTN Qhubeka), and pre-race favourite Peter Sagan (Cannondale), who could only manage tenth place.
It wasn’t only the support of his able Katusha teammates that lay behind Kristoff’s success, but his ability in the tough conditions and on the climbs. He’s shown himself to be a very capable climber before, excelling over really tough terrain like at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, in which he finished fourth last season. Whereas the frantic tempo over the Cipressa and Poggio may have taken too much over the more pure sprinters like Cavendish, Kristoff was never pushed too far into the red.
Likewise, while the weather conditions weren’t quite as apocalyptic as in last year’s edition – in which riders were quite rapidly turned into blocks of ice on wheels – it was still a completely miserable day in the saddle. Cav for one didn’t look too happy in the cold and wet, and should maybe taken a leaf out of the book of Kristoff’s veteran teammate Luca Paolini – who was one of the standout performers on today’s stage. The wily old Italian fox nipped back to the team car for some hot tea midway through, in some quick thinking from the Russian team.
Nibali’s glorious failure
The one big name rider who really animated the racing prior to the final kilometre was Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), who made a solo break for glory on the Cipressa with 25km still to go. He did manage to quite quickly catch the breakaway riders out front and open up an advantage of around 30 seconds, though unfortunately it was never enough once the main favourites hit the Poggio, and the race pretty much became one big collective attack.
Nibali probably was never in good enough form to seriously contend today, with his performances at Paris-Nice suggesting he’s still got some work to do before he’s anywhere near peak form. However, it’ll be interesting to see what sort of shame he’s in by the time the Ardennes classics come around, with the Shark of Messina set to participate in both the Amstel Gold Race and La Flèche Wallonne. Will he be competitive enough to win his first ever classic by then? We’ll have to wait and see.
Who’s hot and who’s not?
Other than Kristoff’s victory today, perhaps the most surprising performance was that of Team Sky’s Ben Swift. The British sprinter arguably picked up the most impressive result of his career in finishing third, in what is hopefully a sign of things to come. He was ably assisted throughout by his young Italian teammate Salvatore Puccio, who, at only 24, could also deliver some big results.
Fabian Cancellara (Trek) is also looking in pretty good shape, with the 2008 Milan-San Remo winner finishing second this time around. There’s no doubt that he’ll be the man to beat when we come to the other big classics later in the spring. Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) looks to be riding himself into some nice form as well, and may well be able to give Cancellara and his teammate Tom Boonen a run for their money on the cobbles.
There are, however, still some question marks over the fitness of Peter Sagan (Cannondale), who didn’t really do an awful lot on a parcours you’d expect him to love. Not only did he fail to make any meaningful attacks on the late climbs, he also only mustered up tenth place in the sprint. After an anticlimactic finish in the Strade Bianche too, he’s clearly yet to find his best form.
Race at a glance
294 – In kilometres, the total length of the brutal Milan-San Remo.
2 – This is Alexander Kristoff’s second victory of the season, after he won stage two of the Tour of Oman last month. As of yet he is the only Katusha rider to have stood on the top step of the podium this season.
4 – This is agonisingly the fourth year running that Fabian Cancellara has finished on the podium of Milan-San Remo, having not won the race since back in 2008.
108 – Prior to today, Ben Swift’s best classics finish was 111th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2011. Today, he’s impressively improved that by 108 places.
1. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) 6:55:56
2. Fabian Cancellara (Trek) same time
3. Ben Swift (Sky) s/t
4. Joan Jose Lobato (Movistar) s/t
5. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
6. Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani-CSF) s/t
7. Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
8. Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) s/t
9. Gerald Ciolek (MTN Qhubeka) s/t
10. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) s/t