The moment the race was won: Milan-Sanremo

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Milan Sanremo

Vincenzo Nibali attacks on the Poggio and only Simon Gerrans goes with him. Behind Rabobank’s Matti Breschel looks over his shoulder but on the left of the image you can see Fabian Cancellara about to make his move.

It would be wrong to distil a 300km race into one camera flash but the image above does capture the most strategic moment of the day. Milan-Sanremo is a long “race of elimination” where small mistakes along the way see riders fall out of contention.

Early break
We should salute Cheng Ji (Project 1t4i), Juan Pablo Suarez (Colombia-Coldeportes), Dmitriy Gruzdev (Astana), Angelo Pagani (Colnago-CSF), Vergard Stake Laengen (Team Type 1), Juan Jose Oroz (Euskaltel), Pierpaolo De Negri (Farnese Vini), Michael Mørkøv (Saxo Bank) and Oleg Berdos (UtensilNord). All went in the early move. Their escape attempt was doomed but they gave their all and their teams can take some satisfaction.

Cav-mania
The first big event of the day was the climb of Le Manie where Mark Cavendish was dropped. This wasn’t a case of losing a few places or a small gap opening up, instead he was visibly in trouble, wrestling with his bike in a way we’re not used to seeing. His team committed riders to help but he was dropped so early on the climb that the ensuing gap was at one point reported to be two minutes and the main bunch was driven by BMC and Omega Pharma-Quickstep in order to ensure he was out for good.

The race continued in normal format to the Cipressa. A crash here and there – spare a thought for Carlos Quintero of Colombia Coldeportes who was taken away in an ambulance – but it was routine racing. The Cipressa itself steady. Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Francisco Vila (Utensilnord-Named) went clear but were soon caught on the fast descent. Hooglerland is “lively” but the kind of guy you’d want to play poker with because he’d show all his cards from the start.

Poggio!
It came down to the Poggio. The final climb of the day, it is not steep but a just enough of a climb to prise open a gap. Liquigas’s gregario Valerio Agnoli was the first to move. He was soon followed by the punchy Angel Madrazo of Movistar. But just as they got past the hard first two kilometres it was Vincenzo Nibali who jumped and Simon Gerrans was right on his wheel. Full marks to Gerrans here. With Sagan ready for the sprint an attack by Nibali was highly probably and the Australian didn’t hesitate when Nibali moved.

But the bunch did ease up and now Fabian Cancellara came across. It is perhaps to simple to say riders were waiting given the intense pace but only Fabian Cancellara had the power to bridge across to Gerrans and Nibali.

The trio had a slender lead. But hopefully they’ve studied races past because whilst five seconds on the Poggio might not seem much, it has been the margin needed by others to win in the past because you can pull out a lead on the way down, riders chasing behind are at breaking point. Cancellara led them over the climb and on the descent…

Milan breakaway

…and Cancellara led them all the way to the finish line. The Swiss rider make a gesture for the others to come through but they didn’t seem keen on cooperating and the TV images only showed Gerrans coming through once. But this is professional bike racing, a game of chess on wheels as opposed to a school of good manners.

“Racing is licking your opponent’s plate clean before starting on your own”

So said Hennie Kuiper, winner of Milan-Sanremo in 1985. The Dutchman was describing how you finish off your rivals. With Sagan and Goss behind Gerrans and Nibali were able to hang bank. Above all, they knew the Swiss train never stops and Cancellara drove them all the way to the line. Some might say Gerrans and Nibali should have joined in the effort but if this is true, perhaps Cancellara should have reduced the power too and tried to outfox the others?

Sanremo sprint
The lead was coming down. 12 seconds, then 7, and with less than a kilometre the trio started to look around and they could see the chase behind. In a race famed for the intensity of its finishes, this was adrenalin via TV. The sprint started and Gerrans went level with Cancellara and then passed him with enough of a lead to sit up and celebrate before the finish line.

Milan Sanremo

This marks the second year in a row that Cancellara was outsprinted by an Australian in Sanremo after Matthew Goss won last year. But within a minute of crossing the finish line Italian TV displayed the new UCI rankings. You might not care for the arithmetic but the riders do and the lead trio all knew they could cash in if they just made it to the finish. The ranking system incentivises certain behaviours, in this case it’s better for Cancellara to ride to a certain third place or better than risk being swamped by the chase and losing the valuable points.

Summary
Vincenzo Nibali was the boldest rider thanks to his big attack on the Poggio. Fabian Cancellara was the strongest rider with vast power on the latter part of the climb and then the descent and the entrance into Sanremo. But victory isn’t always for the boldest or the strongest. The only rider able to match Nibali, Gerrans was the cleverest on the day.

Note even the official race poster highlights the gamble, risk and calculation that goes with the longest race of the year.

1 Simon GERRANS AUS GEC 6:59:24
2 Fabian CANCELLARA SUI RNT +0
3 Vincenzo NIBALI ITA LIQ +0

4 Peter SAGAN SVK LIQ +2
5 John DEGENKOLB GER PRO +2
6 Filippo POZZATO ITA FAR +2
7 Oscar FREIRE GOMEZ ESP KAT +2
8 Alessandro BALLAN ITA BMC +2
9 Daniel OSS ITA LIQ +2
10 Daniele BENNATI ITA RNT +2
11 Xavier FLORENCIO CABRE ESP KAT +2
12 Luca PAOLINI ITA KAT +12
13 Simon GESCHKE GER PRO +12
14 Oscar GATTO ITA FAR +12
15 Matthew Harley GOSS AUS GEC +20
16 Giovanni VISCONTI ITA MOV +20
17 Jacopo GUARNIERI ITA AST +20
18 Francisco José VENTOSO ALBERDI ESP MOV +20
19 Koen DE KORT NED PRO +20
20 Johnny HOOGERLAND NED VCD +20
21 Mark RENSHAW AUS RAB +20
22 Tom BOONEN BEL OPQ +20
23 Björn LEUKEMANS BEL VCD +20
24 Sacha MODOLO ITA COG +20
25 Edvald BOASSON HAGEN NOR SKY +20

Larry T. March 17, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Bravo to Gerrans! Once there were just three over the top of the Poggio, the only thing left was for Nibali to escape on the descent. He animated the race for sure, but couldn’t finish it off. As they headed to the line I thought it was Gerrans’ race to lose as Cancellara isn’t much of a sprinter nor is Nibali. Cancellara faced two choices, the one he took or the other – sitting up because the others wouldn’t work and letting all three of them get swept up, playing into the hands of both GreenEdge and Liquigas. Perhaps Bennati was close by too, but after his dismal performance in the sprint for the rainbow jersey in Denmark, I can see why Cancellara wasn’t going to wait for him. We’ll have to wait and hear the excuses from the SKY Team. I predict Cavendish will have a tougher time this year in any course with climbs, in the rainbow jersey he won’t be able to hold onto any cars – there was talk today of him drafting a few as he was getting dropped.

Champs March 17, 2012 at 8:36 pm

So much for Mondory, not that anyone was taking it seriously, I hope. Editorially, I notice this “Fabien” Cancellara has been written about a few times lately. Is he the Clark Kent-style secret identity of Spartacus or an evil twin of Fabian?

Tactically, it’s just a given that he will ride off the front and never let go of that gap, no matter who’s on his wheel, and give them a free ride to the line on his wheel. Once—just once—he needs to forget about the podium, forget about the points, and let the chase group catch.

Ablindeye March 17, 2012 at 9:01 pm

Full marks to Gerrans. At the right moment he was in the right position, knew who to watch, had the power to stay in the slipstream of Nibali’s attack and was calm enough, with an ever decreasing gap, to save himself for the sprint. I know some will not take to a victory like this but all those things are easier said than done, especially after 300km of racing – if just anybody could have sat in the wheel for a “free” ride to the finish then more than one rider would’ve been doing it!

From Cancellera’s point of view better to take on a long odds sprint and a podium finish then the certainty of not making the top 5.

The Inner Ring March 17, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Larry T: no word yet on Cavendish. Many sprinters were dropped today but going so early on Le Manie suggests something wasn’t right today.

Champs: Fabien is his French brother; fixed now thanks. He has big power and could win a sprint if he just eased up but that is not his style it seems.

Paul I. March 17, 2012 at 9:37 pm

I wasn’t able to watch the race (out riding), but I’m a little surprised that Boassen Hagen was not in the mix if Cavendish was dropped so early. He seems to have come in with the Goss/Boonen/Modolo/Renshaw group of mostly sprinters, I thought he would be a better climber than those guys.

Dennis March 17, 2012 at 9:56 pm

I’m new to bicycle racing, so my impression may be due to not having seen that many races, but it seems that Cancellara ends up in a situation like this more than he should. Why does it seem like he never has a teammate behind him, allowing him to refuse to pull the whole way in a break? Does Radio Shack Leopard (etc.) not have any sprinters or anyone who can keep up when Cancellara goes in a break?

JimW March 17, 2012 at 10:14 pm

That was a great race today!
As soon as Cancellara joined the two I knew Gerrans had it in the bag.
Nail biting still though as they swooped through the last chicane into the sprint.
I was bouncing in my seat shouting at the Katusha chase.
Thought Oscar would win if they made the catch.
What a final selection of riders though.
Just amazing.

Ablindeye March 17, 2012 at 10:32 pm

@ Dennis he had Bennati (the teams sprinter) in the group behind though I doubt many would have expected him to be able to beat the likes of Sagan or maybe even Degenkolb for that matter who were also both in the same group.

El Gato de La Cala March 17, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Friday, 9 March P-N Stage 6 the moment.. I wrote the following comment:

“I am not a huge fan of TT specialists, although I respect specialists in every sense, neither am I the biggest fan of sprinters, although I admire their technically skills and top speed – but, when it comes to finishing up classic one day races or stages of any kind in stage races: it is the real deal. This is why most of us started riding our bikes.”

Today I know why!

Mike March 17, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Honourable mentions to Sagan, has now proven himself over the distance, very excited to see him from Flanders to Liege. Also Degenkolb climbing with the strongmen and finishing well, and Pozzato 6th after breaking his collarbone only last month and out-sprinting Freire. Pity Boonen was slowed by a crash on the Poggio descent, Trentin could have worked hard to bring back Cance et al. and the finale could have been even more nail biting! Also sad to see Gilbert crash and Haussler delayed by the crash.

daniel March 17, 2012 at 11:26 pm

Sagan was 17th last year.

Would’ve been nice if Katusha had an extra man to work after Poggio.

Nibali did well with the attack but I’m not really sure what he thought about to do after that – he knew he couldn’t outsprint them, and he didn’t attack. Didn’t end up helping Sagan in any way really, apart from the attack that must’ve shed a couple of guys.

Beau March 17, 2012 at 11:54 pm

For a country of 22 Million people Australia produces world class athletes – Bravo to Gerrans everyone back home in Australia is proud of you and GreenEDGE

Rider Council March 17, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Great finish, shame for Cancellara, Bonnen and who knows… Gilbert? There will be a lot of talk now about Cav but hey, he just had a bad day. It happens. Seems like B Hagen had one too or lost the plot with all the panic in the team. Cancellara had no choice but to ride one he committed and Nibali had none either once he attacked and ended up with company. I really don’t think UCI points were on their minds as they were scorching down the poggio. A finale like that must blow the senses into overdrive. Gerrans showed some serious nerve but man when they came off the ramp Cancellara did a pull only he can do and without that turn Gerrans would have been leading out Goss against Sagan et co. Perhaps if Cancellara just let the other two finish off the last part of the descent, even 300 meters, he could have ripped open the jets when they hit the lungo mare and smoked them from behind. Like he did in 2008.

Rider Council March 18, 2012 at 12:05 am

@Beau Australia 22 million Ireland 4.5 million; Milan San Remo; Ireland 2 – Australia 2………..Tour de France; Ireland 1 – Australia 1
Giro d’Italia……..ok, thats enough just in case you want to bring up rugby.

Mike March 18, 2012 at 12:41 am

Great write-up as always. For me, it was great to see Colombia Coldeportes get Suarez in the breakaway, and to see Cheng Ji in there too. In fact, I thought the whole 1t4i team were great today, Dagenkolb’s sprint at the end was pretty heroic and they ended up with 3 guys in the top 20.

Re. Cav. I wonder if he picked up the same illness that forced Knees and Rogers out earlier in the week? Something didn’t look right.

Ablindeye March 18, 2012 at 1:36 am

Re: Cavendish for what it’s worth an attributed quote on Sky’s website credited to Eisel:

“Mark just didn’t have it today, it’s as simple as that. He was going well in Tirreno but seemed to be lacking some horsepower out there today. It’s a shame because he really wanted to win this and he’s disappointed, for sure.”

TotheBillyoh March 18, 2012 at 2:45 am

Your report helps make up for the fact that I was unable to watch it live. Thanks.

Simon Gerrans displays heart and head; characteristics that probably in truth have little to do with him having been born in Australia. I am thrilled of course, but mainly for him as a person. He seems like a decent bloke.

Rider Council: Touche re Ireland. It is interesting how nationalism in sport runs. A modern invention really. Underdogs are such great value because they often surprise us, confounding the status quo and hegemony of the big, wealthier nations. (Go you Kiwis! – blasphemy I realise.)

Beau's defence March 18, 2012 at 2:47 am

@Rider Council

Notice Beau said Australia produces some world class athletes and you immediately try to chop him down. 1 win at the world cup still doesn’t ever put you past the quarter finals in world cup history. Shall we mention the olympic games. 2008 sits Ireland at 61st on the medal tally with 1 silver and 2 bronze…solid effort!! Australia sat in 6th with 14 gold, 15 silver and 17 bronze with a total of 46.

So Rider Council, i believe you wanted to compare track cycling history?? You go first!!

JimW March 18, 2012 at 3:20 am

Oooooh.
Ouch, track racing!

If you bring up beer they have you beaten hands down.
It may make up for dozens of other categories too! ; )

Peter March 18, 2012 at 3:53 am

Inner Ring, without wanting to take away from the victory of my countryman or the strength of Cancellara, nor the impetus of Nibali, I want to point out that the best coverage of all of this was on this blog.

Not for the moment by moment, but for your preview pieces and your winning moment coverage – complete with really good photos. There are numerous places to read the live coverage, or hear the announcers. We know that they miss key points and moments and that it has to be that way for live coverage.

Your work to set up and then bring it home is just as well executed as any race team could hope to do. Chapeau to you!

touriste-routier March 18, 2012 at 4:08 am

I knew Gerrans would win once Cancellara opened a small gap on he and Nibali, and Nibali closed it. Simon played the role of sprinter to perfection

Forthelove March 18, 2012 at 4:17 am

Have to agree with Peter – once again, InnerRing turns up ACES! Thank you.

Regarding MSR, you could say several things about today’s outcome. On one hand, you could see some smart racing on Simon’s part or on the other, the incredible power on Fabian’s part; however, from where I was sitting, it seems pretty apparent that if Fabian hadn’t powered to the line, Simon simply would not have won. Was this smart tactics or a crap-load of cheap, shameless wheel-sucking? Regardless, I will stand in the camp who believe that the race belonged to Fabian. He proved, once again, with a second place finish, that he was/is the most powerful cyclist in the pro peloton. Bravo, Fabian – truly inspiring. Oh, and yes, you too, Simon.

Andrew March 18, 2012 at 6:32 am

@peter – couldn’t have said it better myself. INRNG is by far the most complete and comprehensive ‘real’ cycling coverage and news out there. The sean kelly circa ’92 was an absolute gem.

As per usual – nothing but class here!

Mendip 5000 March 18, 2012 at 6:44 am

INRG – it’s a really interesting point, how the UCI scoring system changes racing behaviour. We have seen Spartacus sit up in the classics last year (can’t remember which one) and for a moment he looked like he was going to again, but there was a definite change of mind on his part.

When Nibali went, would it have been against team orders for Sagan to go too, or just not good sense? Perhaps the thinking was that the uber descender would have it in the bag by the bottom of the Poggio, but to be honest he never looked like getting past Gerrans.

My belief is that this was a wasted opportunity for Sagan. A battle between two sprinters coming of Fabian’s wheel would have been a worthy end to an exciting race. It’s Gibo and the Little Prince all over again for me.

Larry T. March 18, 2012 at 8:49 am

Interesting comments all. I’m struck by (being married to a women who won most of her races in sprints probably influences it) the passion for, well, for lack of a better description, DONKEYS. The hard-headed strongmen like Cancellara get all the love while a smart guy like Gerrans gets criticized for winning the damn race! If Cancellara is stupid (though that’s not really the best word) enough to keep pulling, knowing the Aussie will spank him at the finish line, how can one blame Gerrans? Simon had to make a huge gamble to win, sitting there, hoping they wouldn’t be caught, biding his time in the same way Cavendish or any other sprinter operates at the finish, then making his one final do or die effort. Don’t most of the current sprinters use a lead-out train to get them to the finish where they put in the final 1-200 meters of effort to finish it off? I don’t read comments calling THEM wheel-suckers for some reason. If head and heart are taken out of the sport and replaced by boring displays of pure strength and power, we’ll have………well, I don’t know what we’ll have, but it’ll be something less than sport and something I won’t make any time to watch.

Rider Council March 18, 2012 at 9:25 am

back to Beau’s defender. Seems you missed my point. Yes, Ireland pays the price not just in track racing but basketball and darts too for keeping the 40 shades of green. But then again they produce great race horses and spuds.

@Larry T. Cancellara said right after the race that you can never know after 300 km how a sprint will pan out, so he kept riding anyway. Again, he had no choice, he was committed.Nibali and Gerrans were doing their best to hold onto his wheel and the latter was slow enough coming around him considering when the sprint started….at 180 meters or so. He just did too much work on the descent and Nibali could have definitely taken the lead for some of it, it could have potentially changed the opportunities at the bottom. But it’s probably hard to work out tactics in less than a minute at 80 kph

Pithpossum March 18, 2012 at 10:06 am

I think you missed one key fact in your race review: apparently Kris Boeckmans crashed in the descent of the Poggio, splitting the chase group, which explains why the chase group only contained 10 riders or so at the finish. If Boeckmans hadn’t crashed, the chase group would have been bigger and probably they would have managed to organise the chase and overtake Gerrans et al…

Larry T. March 18, 2012 at 10:19 am

RC – thanks for the recap though I watched the race and the comments via RAI 3 here in Sicily. With Nibali’s descending skills I find it tough to believe Cancellara would have risked letting him get a gap on the descent though in the end it might have been a better tactic as he may have been able to drop him once back on the flat, had he not done so much work on the descent. But I firmly believe that the SMARTEST guy won MSR 2012. As my wife used to say to these strong riders “it’s up to you to get rid of me before the finish line, otherwise I’ll simply sprint past you.” If they wouldn’t (or couldn’t) they simply got spanked at the line. The different strengths and abilities of various riders and how they use them is what makes cycling more interesting to me than any other sport. The day it becomes nothing more than a contest of who can produce the most watts is the day I stop caring about it.

melbin_rider March 18, 2012 at 10:30 am

@ larry t
exactly mate, well said.

many commenting seem to be under the mistaken impression that the object of a bike race is to ride fast (it isn’t). massive fan of faboo, and second two years running is amazing, but unless he goes from the bunch cleanly then he needs to perhaps save something and play a different card. although perhaps that really was his plan (to wait for a bit) and nibali simply drew him out, at which point he simply goes full gas. of course fabian may simply have backed himself to get over the top of gerro when push came to shove. sagan continues to confirm his rising star as well. gerro and greenedge having a great season so far, and both must surely be feeling that anything from here out is a bonus.

Bundle March 18, 2012 at 10:44 am

Great writing as usual.
If someone wants both the love and the victory, you have to go for both, like Cancellara and Nibali do. If you just go for a clever victory, that’s what you get. In Spain, “garrapata” (“tick”) is the name given to wheel-sucking winners. Still I don’t think Gerrans was a “tick” this time. I just think Cancellara guessed that by leading Gerrans and Nibali so hard, they wouldn’t be able to sprint at all (and he was 90% right, because he almost won).
Cancellara has the characteristic megalomania of great champions. Sometimes he does indeed overestimate himself, but that just makes him all the more likeable, in my opinion.

The Inner Ring March 18, 2012 at 10:52 am

Pithpossum: thanks and a very good point. Apparently he fell in front of Boonen. I missed it on the TV (was it on TV at all?) but that changes a lot since, as you say, it disrupted the chase.

Two general points:
Nibali is a good descender but at high speed. He can get into an aero tuck. But the Poggio is not like an Alpine descent. Instead it twists and turns and you are constantly sprinting out of the corners, to descend fast here requires fresh legs and aggression rather than fluidity and agility. If it helps, think of it like a crit race.

Thanks for the feedback above but the site here is only possible with all the other news coverage around, it is additional to the TV, press and more. Don’t come here expecting to find every race result.

Rider Council March 18, 2012 at 2:40 pm

I wouldn’t completely agree with that analysis of descending @inrng it’s much more complex than a good tuck or aggressive riding. The poggio is typical of a lot of descents in Italian races and although aggression plays a role, as does sprinting out of corners, what really makes gains is skill i.e. intelligent analysis of the road choosing lines, body positioning, weight distribution, mental focus and especially tactile skills etc to name a few. Also the accumulative effect of stress as the descent progresses can cause a rider to loose nerve or even crash when his concentration lapses. Descending has a lot of similarities with Cyclo Cross actually. This is why Milano San Remo is so beautiful, it’s the ultimate test of nerves and skill when you are already knackered.

JimW March 18, 2012 at 3:03 pm

I’m in Larry T’s camp.
Aerodynamics are a key component of the sport.
If they weren’t who would buy a cervelo?
When I read the “cheap wheel sucking” comments I see a poor sport who can’t accept their rider lost.
Drafting is and will always be a part of the sport.
Your guy didn’t win because he can’t sprint.
He also did not initiate the move. Nibali did and Gerrans was together enough to assess and make it happen after 290K. Does this paint Mr. Cancellara’s effort in a negative light since he did not initiate the move. Of course not! He saw the danger and took his chances with those two riders. Better odds than the bunch they were with at the top. Gerrans also contributed to the break. It may not have seemed much but when Cancellara joins your effort what are you gonna do? Let the freight train through and hope to hold on. You don’t go pedal stroke for pedal stroke with him until the last 100meters.

Chess folks, chess.
Not checkers.

Jaas March 18, 2012 at 4:18 pm

If Cav shows up like that to the TDF he is either not going to finish or be the concrete shoes to Wiggos yellow jersey dreams

Larry T. March 18, 2012 at 4:19 pm

RC-I think what he’s trying to say is there are different skills and mindsets involved in descents. From my (now ancient) AMA Superbike racing career (wasn’t very good but good enough to ride against the likes of Wayne Rainey, Fred Merkel and Mike Baldwin) I recall two distinct types of circuits – the high-speed, flowing ones where the key to a fast lap was how much momentum one could carry OUT of the corner onto the straight (King Kenny Roberts used to say the key was “doing the fast turns fast” and letting the slow turns take care of themselves, as not much time could be made up but you could easily fall off) and the other kind, the ones we used to call “braking contests” with tight turns and sharp corners where it’s tough to really get a lot of speed up or carry much out of the tight turns. I’ve ridden down the Poggio and I’d put it closer to the latter – Nibali’s skills are more in line with the former. Obviously Fabian and Vincenzo were pretty evenly matched there though I’d love to see the two of them race each other down a high-speed, flowing descent. We’ll have to get Fabian to go faster up the hill or Nibali to go a bit slower for this to happen…I won’t hold my breath!

ave March 18, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Nibali managed to not get dropped, and I’m sure his downhill skills were needed for this.

Ken March 18, 2012 at 6:07 pm

In think Cancellara’s best chance came about 2/3 of the way down the descent. He started to pull away from his two pursuers, gaining a few bike lengths. However, Gerrans rallied and pulled him back, and the advantage went back to the sprinter.

Steppings March 18, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Gerrans did exactly the right thing, he had one match left to burn and didn’t waste it. It is the same as what Kelly or Cipollini would have done in the same position.

James March 18, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Good race and finale- almost as interesting as last year’s. I think each rider played things pretty well and had reasons for doing what they did. Nibali probably didn’t think he would neutralize Sagan’s chances like that. By the time Cancellara and Gerrans started following (which was fairly quick), it was already too late; those two would have probably pressed on and stayed away without Nibali (they basically did anyway). Cancellara played to his strengths. I don’t agree that he needs some different tactic or something. He could have gotten away on the descent and seemed to be putting daylight between him and Gerrans at a few points; Gerrans admitted it was hard to keep up. Also, I think a tired Cancellara would have a better chance from a small group like he was in than a fresher Cancellara would from the larger group. I doubt he’d beat Degenkolb or Sagan, for example, in a sprint. When has he ever won a sprint like that? Launching an attack earlier as he did in his previous MSR victory probably would not work. If he tried that, anyone who saw it and had anything left or was riding for someone else would immediately try to shut it down. I remember reading in a year or two ago that Cancellara noted that his tactic that won MSR before only works once every ten years or so.

Also, I find it interesting when the issue of “wheel sucking” gets brought up. It seems to happen somewhat regularly that when someone wins like Gerrans did, some say he was just riding the race right and others that he was sucking wheels. I doubt, however, that most people think that there is no such thing as wheel sucking. Not sure what the standard is here. Rarely are there clear cases (one thinks, though, of the sort of negative racing I see Pozzato engage in sometimes).

Darren March 18, 2012 at 10:40 pm

Gotta hand it to Nibali…each MSR you see him attempting to take off and beat the front group to the line…and each year tries again! The man just does not give up on MSR podium glory!!! Congrats to Gerro, let Cancellara do the work seeing as Cancellara wanted to take the risk/gamble!

Did the last 125km of Dwars door Vlaanderen this morning (profs take to the hills on Wednesday)! Amazed at what those guys can do with all the hills, small farm roads! Never a boring moment on that parcour! Look forwrd to see how they do it on Wednesday!

Thanks for these great decisive moment blogs! Loving it!

inopinatus March 18, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Besides being poor sports, those dissing Gerrans in favour of Cancellara clearly haven’t watched the actual race. As INRNG says, the key moment is in that photo and we can see that Gerrans has gone with panache, chasing Nibali on the final attack up the Poggio, with little thought to what Cancellara is doing.

To then hang with those two on a fast technical descent demonstrates bicycle handling skills of the highest order!

At that point, only a fool would do anything other than sit behind the Swiss diesel engine. Had Gerrans not done so, those same armchair DSes would be snickering about what an idiot he’d been. As ever, a sprinter wins by using his head before his legs.

Bundle March 18, 2012 at 11:35 pm

I agree that Gerrans couldn’t do anything else than win the race that was so nicely presented to him once he was able to follow Spartacus and the Shark uphill and downhill. Even if he wanted to really relay Cancellara on the flat, he probably wasn’t even able. He won fair and square (although not gloriously or epically) and that’s it. Valverde (where was he?) would have won the same way (and people would be yucking around).
What I robustly disagree with is with the view that drafting and aerodynamics are the essence of the sport. If wheel-sucking and sprinting were the pinnacle of cycling, if all the teams and riders rode that way, this would be most boring sport to watch and even worse to read about. You MUST give this much to the guys who get the wind in their faces: they are the ones who make cycling interesting. Even when they don’t win, they are the heroes.
So, the evolution of cycling, with lighter, more aerodynamic bikes, on smoother roads, on ever shorter races run at ever higher speeds, makes drafting ever more advantageous. Well, this is bad, bad, terrible news for us watchers. Decisions must be taken urgently (minimum bicycle weghts, no radios or computers, a lot more mileage) in order to prevent cycling from becoming a 30-second show. In the meantime, all we can do is give our admiration to the guys who get the wind in their faces, as opposed, if necessary, to the winners. Give me a Hoogerland and you can keep 5 Leipheimers.

Forthelove March 19, 2012 at 12:44 am

@Larry T. – Each time I read one of your posts, it puts me in a bit of shock. Kind of wonder how much of sportsman you are and if you’ve ever seen a video of any of Merckx’s races? Horsepower in cycling wins, whether your climbing or sprinting. Simon had the horsepower to pass Fabian. But I ask you, and be honest with yourself, who’s the stronger cyclist, Fabian Cancellara or Simon Gerrans. I’m happy for Simon and his team. It was a very important day for them – for all the teams. He won fair and square.

But the point in all these posts – all us “DONKEYS” as you so eloquently and tastefully put it, all of us passionate “donkeys,” I might add, have our opinions and we are on this fantastic site to express them – have a mature, intelligent discussion of the incredible outcome from yesterday.

If you want to tell us about your wife and then call us “donkeys,” please try writing it down and rereading before you post it on the world wide web.

Cheers.

Pirate Maboule March 19, 2012 at 12:45 am

I am now calling it “The curse of the Leopard” …

(and what’s up with GreenEdge and their videos full of “bip”…It is really annoying…. Come on guys, we all konw what they are saying, stop being so prude!)

Roobay March 19, 2012 at 4:19 am

INRNG – as usual, nothing but quality.

Regarding Gerrans/wheel sucking – you need to break it down a bit:
(a) Gerrans pulled on the Poggio until Canceallara decided to come over the top to try and and monster everyone for the rest of the climb.
(b) Cancellara chose to lead what is a vert fast and technical descent. He was trying to gap the others, which you could clearly see from the helicopter shots. He wasn’t trying to keep the trio together. Gerrans couldn’t pull in that situation.
(c) it is only a few kms from the bottom of the Poggio to the finish – not like there was 10-20km of sitting on Cancellara’s wheel.

From his attack on the Poggio onwards I didn’t see anything other than Cancellara trying to ride the others off his wheel. Only when he knew he couldn’t shake Nibali and Gerrans did he suggest that they all work together and make the little hand gesture for the others to roll through.

Cancellara is an awesome competitor, but on this occasion simply found himself in a difficult situation where pure grunt and TT ability wasn’t going to win the day. That the strongest rider doesn’t always win is what makes races like this so exciting.

I love MSR more and more each year.

Larry T. March 19, 2012 at 7:23 am

Forthelove-rather than bore anyone here with “how much of a sportsmen I am” or was, etc. you could email me larry@cycleitalia.com if you really want to know. Sorry for “shocking” you but based on what others here have posted I don’t think I’m the only one with the view that there’s more to cycling than simply power/watts/strength, etc. In the same situation on Saturday, Merckx would have found a way to win despite being marked. That’s why Eddy is the greatest of all time and Cancellara is merely a strong guy and Gerran’s a smart guy.

Forthelove March 19, 2012 at 9:22 am

Larry T. – still didn’t answer my question. Who do you think is the stronger cyclist? While it is very apparent that Simon used what he had to make the most of the situation, he was still dealing with a competitor who was stronger – yes, stronger, and no less wiser either. Fabian made his move at a specific moment and made it in a big way. Simon easily could have lost that sprint; but because he hung on to the wheels of both Fabian and Nibali, he had just enough left over.

Why is it so hard for the bunch like yourself to not see that? Yes, yes, yes, Simon won, and again, he was smart to use what he had as best he could. In that sense, bravo Simon. However (and I will not let go of this “however”), Fabian was and is still the stronger cyclist. As I typed before, he proved again this year, that it is possible to be the strongest in a race, but leave with a #2.

Tell me this, on your local rides, how often do you take the pull? And when you do take that pull, how long do you stay out front? When you find yourself unable to pull around some chap who’s been pulling the entire group for 10 min’s, do you naturally think that he/she’s a moron – strong, but dumb for pulling for so long? Or do you react as many of my comrades would – with a mild respect towards that person for throwing down some strong watts. This is generally a bi-product of being in shape. If I were to hide behind someone’s wheel for 10 min’s and then sprint on them, I’d still feel a bit humbled despite winning the sprint.

Kinda reminds me of Saturday, no?

And thanks for your email, but no thanks.

Pithpossum March 19, 2012 at 9:35 am

@The Inner Ring: Boonen mentioned it in an interview on Belgian television. You can see the interview here: http://www.sporza.be/cm/sporza/videozone/MG_sportnieuws/MG_wielrennen/1.1247630

Ian March 19, 2012 at 10:21 am

I must admit I find the implied criticism of the various tactics of the top 3 somewhat strange, didn’t each of them simply use their particular strengths to try and win the race which for me made the last few kilometres so interesting – 3 different styles and approaches who would prevail? Nibali via his attack on the last climb and his descending, Fabian with his power, Gerrans via the sprint. As for Fabian hitting the front as can be seen from the photo he was behind them both when he followed the attack on the climb so he made the conscious choice to hit the front – he didn’t succeed but I’d like to congratulate all 3 of them for a great race and having me on the edge of my seat.

Larry T. March 19, 2012 at 10:54 am

Forthelove – Stronger? Cancellara, no doubt, Gerrans said so himself. But the trophy for WINNING the race on Saturday went to Gerrans. HE was the first one across the finish line. If you’d like to sponsor a prize for the strongest rider of the day, week or year, you’re welcome to it…but I doubt it will be the same guy who is at the top of the winning column. And though it’s been many years since I’ve pinned on a number, I still think the prizes are given to the WINNERS rather than some arbitrary choice of who may or may not have been the strongest. Can we leave it at this? One final note: I never called YOU a donkey. You put yourself in that category my friend, maybe because you’re one of those who has no sprint and finds it frustrating when someone who has one lets you pull them to the finish line where they spank you. My wife, who has stood on the podium between Rebecca Twigg and Connie Paraskevin used to deal with this all the time back in her racing days. I just find it odd that those who win with smarts rather than raw power get less respect in so many cases. Let’s move on to something else now as I don’t want to bore the others further with this exchange.

Hughesdale Hammer March 19, 2012 at 11:19 am

This quote from Tim Krabbe’s The Rider is getting a fair run, and rightly so.
“Every once in a while someone along the road lets us know how far behind we are. A man shouts: ‘Faster!’ He probably thinks bicycle racing is about going fast.”

Forthelove – what exactly do you think bicycle racing is about?

Gus March 19, 2012 at 11:44 am

Is Larry T the tit of the blog?

inopinatus March 19, 2012 at 11:57 am

Guys, guys … could you rein it in please? These comments are all getting a bit … Velonews.

Mendip5000 March 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm

@ Ian – I tend to agree that each of the three did their best and did indeed make it an exhilarating race to watch. Still feel that had Sagan “known” that Nibali was about to go (and been able to keep with him) there might have been a different result and an Italian winner.

jkeltgv March 19, 2012 at 3:57 pm

I agree with inopinatus – let’s keep it civil. It’s why inrng is what it is – the article provokes great comments and you come back to read the comments days after you first read the article.

Here are some of my thoughts:
*no one has mentioned anything about drafting the moto. Perhaps not a definate advantage but a fact that there was no moto between Nibali and the Katusha led chase group. Rounding the corner at the top Fabu et al had 4 seconds. By the second hairpin it was down to 3…..then it was 12 at the bottom (as Sean Kelly brilliantly said on BES “they’ll need 12 seconds if they’re to hold on”. What a man – still king of the Pogio.

*What happened to Rabo on the chase?

*Why was SG the only one to be sitting on Nibali’s wheel when everyone…EVERYONE….knew that their tactic would be to send Nibali ahead for Sagan to win having sat on in the chase. Gerro didn’t even respond to Nibali’s attack – he moved at exactly the same time and Breschal and Modulo couldn’t or wouldn’t follow. Pretty good tactics from a fledgling team. And Goss won the sprint for the “disrupted” descent second group, even though he looked awful just before the Pogio.

*Despite everyone knowing what Liquigas would do they were so close to pulling it off. A crash on the descent to disrupt the chase from pulling it off. Not bad in a race with so many variables like MSR.

*I think we all need to realise we are very irrational when it comes to who we like and why we like them and then judging races on this. I was sooooo pissed of with Nuyens last year in Flanders but only because I don’t like him. I’ve even been known to slag off Oscar for just popping his head up in the final 10 metres of a big race once every couple of years and doing nothing else for 700 odd days.

*finally, Gerrans acknowledged Fabu’s power and Fabu hasn’t complained about the result. Just us fools on the net still arguing over it while the protagonists get on with racing!

Rider Council March 19, 2012 at 4:20 pm

@Larry T, you’ve got yourself into a bit of a pickle, haven’t you? Here’s hoping Nibali doesn’t join you on the local rides down there is Sicily, or you got some serious pulling to do.

In all fairness though lay of Larry, he knows the kind of rider he likes, thats a bit of passion, thats it. The debate is getting whoofully out of control xo xo xo xo drafting smafting, Aussi v Paddy v Cav v Sid Vicious. The race was revealed itself right before you eyes and if discourse continues Sean Kelly will personally spank us for being such freds about the whole thing. This is cycling as an argy bargy sport.

Rider Council March 19, 2012 at 4:23 pm

eh, drop the ‘was’ eh and add an r to you. tks
Editor.

Rider Council March 19, 2012 at 4:24 pm

a r.
Ed

Forthelove March 19, 2012 at 7:27 pm

hahaha, yes, I can recognize much here. And for your information, LarryT, if I do indeed have “no spring,” it’s probably cuz I’m only 68 kg’s and live near a plethora of climbs. I’m not ashamed, but I am happy when I do win that occasional sprint. I respect your passion, LarryT, just perhaps more than your “approach.” It’s that passion that captures my heart when I see the efforts of Fabian, Oscar, Simon and the like. What a great day it was!

And Mr. Hammer, to answer your question, yes, cycling is not only about going faster, thank you. There’s a good reason why cyclists are on teams and don’t always race for themselves. To quote a funny politician of years past, “Strategery.”

With that said, see you gentlemen in Brussels in about a week.

Forthelove March 19, 2012 at 7:28 pm

uh, excuse me, “sprint.” Thank you.

fournwi March 19, 2012 at 8:49 pm

I believe all three played to their strengths and the odds (incl teammates behind) in the finale. Nibali attacked on the climb, Cancellara with his amazing power & seated sprint, and Gerrans with his ability to counter & sprint. Each had their chance and has won before with similar tactics. For example, Cancellara’s prior win at MSR had him accelerating off the front and holding it to the line.
It’s what is so great about the sport that three athletes with very different palmares can race for the win. I’m just bummed I could not watch it live.

Larry T. March 19, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Forthelove- looks like the RCS guys are not so happy about the results of MSR either. They’ve said they’re considering changing the course yet again to make it possible to for an attacker to stay clear to the finish. Being an old-fart and pretty much a traditionalist I wonder what they think of the victories of, say Chiappucci http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-y_AP0tUc8 who managed to win with an attack on the Poggio. Or Bugno http://www.videopeloton.com/dettaglio.aspx?CodFile=50518
Those guys could do it and they likely weren’t doped any more than their competitors, so I hate to see them mess around with the route to make possible something that’s happened on the traditional course in the past. These new guys who’ve taken over after Zomegnan’s ouster seem to be running the thing by what they read on Facebook. The passion and single-mindedness of Torriani or Zomegnan is what makes the Italian races special to me. It will be sad if they lose that.

Forthelove March 22, 2012 at 7:14 am

Yes, LarryT, I have to agree that changing the route is not ideal. In a sport that exudes tradition and rolls on the legendary bearings of the past victories, change is not always the best option. Much the same reason why the Louvre hasn’t had a “remodel” in centuries, no? Keep the route the same – allow us to revel in the present by reminiscing upon the the great many who made MSR what it is today – same route, different conclusion each and every year! So, yes, it will be very sad if they lose what makes such a fantastic tradition special in our minds and hearts.

Regarding your links, thank you very much! I especially appreciate the videopeloton! Did not know it existed – here I was watching your link and noticed out of the corner of my eye ALL the other fantastic clips. I’ve been reeling them in ever since. Bravo!

I wish you the best and looking forward to the Monuments to come….

Forthelove March 22, 2012 at 7:27 am

Here, for example, is exactly what I was talking about – because the course has remained the same, I can look back and compare different seasons to one another. Take Bettini’s 2003 victory, for example. Much like this year’s conclusion, 3 man breakaway with the peloton coming up hot on their tails.

They must keep the course constant.

Forthelove March 22, 2012 at 7:27 am

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