A spring Monument at the height of summer, a revised parcours due to a skirmish with coastal towns who refused to host the race, a last minute change making the race weigh in at a record 305km, and each team allowed only six riders so that the organisers could invite a total of 27 teams to participate. But to use a well-worn French phrase, Plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose, because, as is tradition, it was the final 30km when the race kicked off, the Cipressa and Poggio made the selections and at the finish line, it came down to half a wheel length between the champion – Wout Van Aert – and the former champion. Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
Rider of the Race
There’s no doubt that Wout Van Aert is having a humdinger of a season restart. Always a strong competitor, it seems that this year, he has found that winning kick that he needed to follow up his solo victory in Strade Bianche last week with his first Monument win today in Milan-SanRemo. (Before today, the most recent Belgian win of this race was in 1981, Fons de Wolf. What a great name…)Embed from Getty Images
On everyone’s list of race favourites before the start today, Van Aert was always protected by his Jumbo-Visma teammates during the long hours in the saddle, waiting for the fireworks to begin. At one point, there was a shot in the run-up to the Cipressa of Van Aert not looking happy near the back of the peloton. But he kept his head together when Julian Alaphilippe put his explosive power to good use near the crest of the Poggio, and was the only rider to be able to follow the attack. For the remaining 6km of the race, the duo worked together to ensure the peloton didn’t catch them.
By the time they were under the flamme rouge, the peloton was bearing down fast, so the duo had no time to play cat and mouse with each other. Alaphilippe kept Van Aert in front, until they started their neck-and-neck sprint for the line, won by just half a wheel by the Belgian rider. After over seven hours in the saddle, it’s a miracle either of them had any energy left to sprint.
Maybe not the sexy waterbottle shots we got at the end of Strade Bianche, but nice to see the two riders having a bit of fun after a long race. And I officially name Wout Van Aert to have the best hair in the peloton. Bar none.
And to round out the podium, it was Michael Matthews, from Sunweb, who won the bunch sprint two seconds behind the front duo.Embed from Getty Images
And here’s a fun fact that is the perfect segue to our next section:
The bookies favouritesEmbed from Getty Images
In addition to Alaphilippe and Van Aert, the bookies favourites were Peter Sagan (in fact, he got the best odds apparently). The Bora rider had the dogged devotion of Daniel Oss, who in fine tradition went off the front and spent some time free, hair flying, on the way to the Poggio, only to be assimilated. One of these days, he’ll win one like that, but that was not for today. And it wasn’t for Sagan either, who finished a respectable fourth. Even before the break in the season, it felt that Sagan had lost his sparkle and joie de vivre on the bike and it hasn’t felt like he’s been able to find it during lockdown. Let’s hope he finds his mojo again soon.Embed from Getty Images
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin–Fenix) was 6/1, but as is often the case, everyone predicts him to win – they predicted him to win Strade last week – but he just doesn’t make it. Could be bad luck, could be the fact that he still hasn’t mastered the art of riding very long races (if you remember the World Championships where he went too early and ran out of steam well before the finish line). It could also be that he decided not to sign for a World Tour team and therefore doesn’t have the support he needs in the big moments. I suspect it’s a combination of all those factors. He is an enormously talented rider and once he cracks the code to winning, it could well be one of those classic rivalries – Van Aert v van der Poel – for some years to come.Embed from Getty Images
Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) was the bookies’ favourite among the sprinters – but none of the pure sprinters fared well today in the heat, the distance, and the double climbs at the end. Sprinters were left bringing up the rear as soon as the Quickstep-driven pace went into warp on the way to the Cipressa and they certainly weren’t going to be getting over those climbs with the peloton in such a ferocious mood.
#Strive4FiveEmbed from Getty Images
Philippe Gilbert‘s tilt at the final Monument he needs to make the set complete in his palmares didn’t come to much today. He finished a respectable 9th today, just 2sec off the mark from the winner’s time. I do wonder if he would have attained it if the world hadn’t gone into lockdown earlier this year. But has he given up? Oh no. If you remember, he signed a three-year contract with Lotto Soudal at the end of last season, so he has at least two more opportunities to smell the rarified air of being one of the few riders to win all five Monuments in their career.
1 Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) 7:16:09
2 Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) same time
3 Michael Matthews (Sunweb) +0.2
4 Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) same time
5 Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT) s/t
6 Dion Smith (Mitchelton-Scott) s/t
7 Alex Aranburu Deba (Astana) s/t
8 Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) s/t
9 Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal) s/t
10 Matej Mohoric (Bahrain McLaren) s/t
For full race review, go to CyclingNews