The Moment The Race Was Won: Milan-Sanremo

Milan Sanremo sprint

Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka) throws his bike to the line to finish ahead of Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack). In a race so full of suspense it was suspended the outcome of the race was not certain until the last few seconds when the German proved the fastest from the group of six that reached Sanremo. This was the moment the race was won.

Today’s Milan-Sanremo was so much more than a bike race. It was a both fight against the elements and a logistical struggle. If the race rolled out of Milan in an orderly but cold fashion Mother Nature conspired to block the Turchino pass with a snowstorm. The race had to be stopped in Ovada where frozen riders were rushed on to waiting team buses in order to be driven over the pass to the warmer maritime climate where drizzle and dampened spirits awaited.

Milan Sanremo snow

From Milan an early break went with Maxim Belkov (Katusha), Lars Bak (Lotto-Belisol), Filippo Fortin (Bardiani Valvole-CSF), Diego Rosa (Androni Giocatolli-Venezuela), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Pablo Lastras (Movistar). An move like this is often futile but these six got a chance to warm up, they weren’t going to win but they might as well generate some body warmth. They raced on to Ovada where snow was creating a white landscape all around.

Above this town the Turchino pass was covered in snow and practically impossible to climb by bike, yet alone descend, making it impossible for a race. So all were stopped and the riders were bussed over the pass to resume racing in Cogoleto, the coastal town 130km from the finish. Rider’s fingers warmed up enough to fill Twitter with icy images of helmets stuck with snow and faces made wretched from the cold.

The break was restarted with the breakaway given the seven minute advantage recorded when it arrived in Ovada. The race resumed but it was decided that the climb of Le Manie would be skipped and the race would proceed along the coastal road instead. It resumed with plenty of abandons, you wondered if the broom wagon was reservation-only. TV kept listing the retirements but it was hard to track as riders were covered in wet weather gear, their €20 rain jackets flapping in the wind to undermine hundreds of thousands of Euros of wind-tunnel time, even if many riders were spotted sporting Castelli’s Gabba jacket despite being having other clothing sponsors.

The withdrawals were almost the only newsworthy events during two hours of TV as the bunch slowly chased the six fugitives. Their advantage was melting as slowly as an ice cream on the beach of Sanremo today. It was one of those moments of contrast where the TV audience, warm and comfy, wanted something to happen whilst the riders probably wanted everything to stop so they could get a warm shower. Still the race pressed on and the heat began to rise as the lead break was down to three riders as it crossed over the coastal capes.

The temperature soared as they approached the Cipressa, the speed picking and break was caught. A crash brought down two from Sky and Garmin-Sharp each. The climb started with a move going away immediately, it was caught but showed the pace was high. Over the top of the climb and Philippe Gilbert lead. The Belgian world champion began to pull out a lead on the descent, exploiting the wet roads to his advantage. He was soon joined by Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Ian Stannard (Sky), Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) and Sylvain Chavanel (OPQS) and in a moment of hesitation Stannard, Chavanel and Vorganov slipped off the front. The trio led to the Poggio and on its ramps both Stannard and Chavanel attacked, leaving Vorganov even more in the red than his red leggings suggested, his style cramped further by a bizarre shower-cap style helmet cover that looked like a plastic bag had blown on his helmet.

Chavanel Stannard Vorganov

With the Russian ejected, the Franco-British tandem kept up the pace on the Poggio as the bunch swept up the other escapes. Maxim Iglinskiy had a go but it was early and on the second part of the climb Katusha’s Luca Paolini took off and was joined by Cancellara, Pozzato, Sagan and Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka). These riders caught the two leaders on the descent and as they came into Sanremo Stannard tried an attack, his diesel engine chugging away. The group looked to Cancellara to chase but it was Sagan who jumped, not just burning a match but setting fire to the rest of the matchbox after his work on the Poggio. The Slovak and Swiss are clear rivals and were marking each other, all to the advantage of Ciolek, a fast-finisher being carried to the line in their broad slipstream.

The six rode and it was Sylvain Chavanel who launched the sprint, emboldened by his surprise win in Paris-Nice but also playing to his strength as he doesn’t have a jump, more he can turn the power on for long periods. This made Sagan and Ciolek sprint and as they went side-by-side it was Ciolek who had the fresher legs and he surged to the line. There was no time to celebrate but a warm smile appeared as he crossed the line.

Tactically it was smart riding from Ciolek, he kept a cool head whilst the heated rivalry between Sagan and Cancellara meant the two marked each other. He was there when it mattered on the Poggio and kept with the leaders as they rushed over the top. As Cycle Sport’s Edward Pickering points out, of all the six leaders, he was the only one not to attack during the race. To those who might say “he just sat on the wheels,” take a look the case of Filippo Pozzato who tried the same trick but could not hold the pace. Ciolek covered the final attacks and was perfectly placed as they came into the Lungomare finish line, sat right on Peter Sagan’s wheel.

Gerald Ciolek

He is German but the name is of Polish origins. You say it like “Tchio-leck” although in times past the “l” would have been a “ł” which is like a “w”. From today we can call him the winner of Milan-Sanremo. But Gerald Ciolek shot to prominence when he won the German national road race championships in 2005. Aged 18 he did it by outsprinting Erik Zabel.

For 2006 he stepped up to Team Wiesenhof and won the World U-23 championships, edging out Romain Feillu of France in a sprint from a small group. He rode for 2007 and 2008 with T-Mobile which became Team Columbia and collected several sprint wins but he was the third man to Mark Cavendish and André Greipel. Touted as equally good, he went to Team Milram to try his luck but the dairy-backed German squad saw many a career curdle. Back with Quickstep for 2011 and 2012 he came close with results but never landed anything big. It looked like his career was over or certainly he was going to become a lead out man.

But he joined MTN-Qhubeka and has impressed from the start of the season, winning a stage of the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen. In a race dominated by the cold and the snow, Ciolek and his African team came in from the cold in Sanremo.

1 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) MTN – Qhubeka 5:37:20
2 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale
3 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack Leopard
4 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma Quick Step
5 Luca Paolini (Ita) Team Katusha
6 Ian Stannard (GBr) Sky Pro Cycling
7 Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing
8 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha 0:00:14
9 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma Quick Step
10 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Sky Pro Cycling
…135 Vladimir Isaichev (Rus) Katusha 0:18:25

Congratulations to all finishers.

50 thoughts on “The Moment The Race Was Won: Milan-Sanremo”

  1. The moment the race was won was when Sagan over-reacted to Chava’s mini-sprint on the right, and went full gas. Was way too far from the line, with a sprinter right behind him – and yet he still nearly won. If he’d waited another 50m before going (and Chava was never going to win), race would have been his.

    Cracking MSR though, even with the suspension.

    • +1 Though on TV I think he said he went 30 meters too soon. Interesting comparing this cold, wet ride to back-in-the-day BEFORE there were all the high-tech materials for clothing…my guess is the faster speeds negate much of the benefits of the modern materials? I did get a laugh out of the guy with the shower cap flapping on his crash hat – what would all the aero-mavens have said if HE would have won? In the end the toughest and smartest guy won – BRAVI to all who finished!

  2. Ciolek certainly wasn’t on my radar for the win – not until the Sagan-Cancellara group caught Chavanel and Stannard and I thought “there’s the one rider capable of beating Sagan in the sprint.”

    Cooly raced. As Oscar Freire has said: “In order to win Milan San Remo you have to be prepared to lose it”.

  3. My god I was routing for Stannard! what a tale that would be for the grandchildren. Fair play to Ciolek and he will feel a glow this evening after that freeze fest.

  4. The Moment the Race Was Lost- when Sagan needlessly tried to go solo with 2k’s (?) left I think.

    Once he had everyone in front of him I thought Cancellara would launch with 2k or 3k, easy to say from my warm desk chair however.

      • The others were forcing him, as the favourite, to do the front work. It wasn’t such a dumb move, because if you are catching the wind anyway you might as well do it with nobody on your tail, and he couldn’t slow down too much with Cav in the chasing group. After that move he managed to have some of the others do some front work too. But it did cost him a lot of precious energy. That’s cycling for you, five against one makes it very hard for the fastest man to win.

    • I think Ciolek’s choice to move to a Pro C team has been proceeded by others who made the move based on poor career options and weak support when their chances came. (Obv’ as an Aussie) I saw Evans’ move as a prime example. Looking at the team they were building, the management and the potential to become a Pro Tour Team in the coming year, Deli Vans made the sensible choice. Aussie journo’s couldn’t fathom his move, (sickened by ill-knowledged presenter-commentators) but he was obviously being stunted in a Belgian sprint/classics team that preferred to develop a local talent in the coming years than throw their weight behind his GC aspirations.
      Ciolek’s choice has already paid off in spades. His team supports him. He will never again have to ride 333 days for another rider from a “more profitable country”. If they can develop a strong plan during the year and include enough invites, they may find themselves on the top rung next year if they have the right financier and points gathering regimen.
      Great to see another start-up team win following Green-edges performance last year.
      PS If anyone wants to have a giggle about a particular SBS “presenter cum commentator” sheepishly going after Orica about their performances, would love to hear them.

  5. Well, I find it a bit of shame that everybody is saying it is the MSR Sagan hast lost. Sagan rode good and classy, but I bet even if he didn’t attack with 2 km to go Ciolek still would have beaten him.
    I mean, if I would bet, my money would have been on Sagan, but my Dark Horse and sentimental pick was Ciolek. I know his talents and I saw he is in really great shape this spring, only thing I was wary about were his tactical finesse, his positioning is quite often horrible. But today he was great, it was like Goss’ win two years ago. As the only “pure sprinter” , he “only” had to follow wheels and win the sprint and be prepared to lose the race to an escapee. And I think Sagan knew that, that is why he attacked.

    PS: His name is pronounced “Tsi-O-Leck”. But don’t take it from me, take it from the man himself:

  6. What a race! After suspension and continuing bad weather conditions I had a feeling that a surprise win could be possible. I’m really glad we have a new German classic star. It was also great to see Stannard going like a steam locomotive on the Cipressa. This guy could win the Paris-Roubaix!

  7. In German it says:
    if two have an argument, the third is happy!
    That’s what Ciolek probably thought and what he definetely now is…
    Epic race!

  8. I always thought of Ciolek as a field sprinter who simply lacked the speed to beat guys like Cavendish or Greipel. His ability to follow the attacks on the climbs shows maybe he’s more of a classics guy after all. Did he think if himself that way before today?

    Because the TV cameras were only following the front group in the final kilometers, we didn’t get to see how exactly Taylor Phinney almost managed to catch the breakaway group, but it appears he did something truly impressive. Had he picked better timing, he may have figured in the final sprint (but still lost to Ciolek). Regardless, I would say Phinney and Stannard today should have earned the unquestioning support of their teams during the coming month.

    • I agree about the moto drop, it happens so often and you miss some of the great stories that unfold in the big events.
      I expected to see Cancellara blast from the back of the pack down the other side of the road at about 1200m and see if anyone could regain his wheel. I think Phinney would have been an option for a similar move, but of course he wasn’t there to do so.
      Only last week Spartacus was talking about how they should fear giving him 10 metres, or 1 metre or 10 centimetres, and if only he had some fuel left in the tank, he might have been able to leave a tired & disorganised pack behind and finally regained the title he truly feels has been his for the past 3 years.

  9. I wonder if Sagan has ever heard of Ciolek. Actually, I wonder if Sagan has ever heard of T-Mobile. He doesn’t appear to be a student of the sport and I wonder not only if he underestimated him but whether he estimated him at all. I suppose he had a DS in his ear but his head must have been saying “I’ll have all of these guys in a sprint”

  10. jkelgtv, why would Sagan not know who Ciolek is? Even if he’s no student of the sport, as you claim, he’s been racing alongside him at Tirreno-Adriatico just last week, where Ciolek has been strong.

    • I think perhaps he knew Ciolek but he knew Cancellara a lot more and their small war of words meant neither could let the other win. Look at the photos above, Sagan is staring at Cancellara as they cross the line.

  11. Great write-up INRNG, and hats off to all riders that made it to the line. What a thrilling finale, very tactical. Sagan almost pulled it off but five against one can be too much. Ciolek used his underdog status very efficiently. I recorded the race because I was out riding today, 1200 km further north but a lot better weather!

  12. Ciołek in Polish means numpty, idiot – it is an insult to be called Ciołek, but Gerald did not live up to it today. Grand day for him and his team.

  13. First full MSR I’ve watched (only watched highlights last few years) and what a race it was! Was rooting for Chava, but anyone beating Sagan is a good thing. Interestingly, out of the 6 at the end, the top three all had no leggings on…

    • Just like in cyclocross legwarmers hold cold water against your legs. Some oil, vaseline or embrocation will provide a bit of barrier to wind and the water beads and rolls off. Which is better epends on the riders mindset in the end.

  14. Great to see Ciolek win big after the years of not living up to the hype.

    Watching the Cipressa back again – was that him being dropped on the climb???!

  15. Ciolek. Best man won. No other bullsh*t pandering to other favorites necessary, really. I love seeing the unexpected outcomes. I hate seeing the same guys win over and over again. It’s boring. A non mega bucks, non World Tour team, grabs victory. Very sweet.

  16. Great to see Ciolek take a big win! I’ve been quietly rooting for this guy since he beat Zabel as an 18 year old in the German championships back in 2005. Watched the race on tv this afternoon and was disappointed to not see Phinney (another exciting talent to follow)….saw him on the replay and will hope the best for him by the time Paris-Roubaix comes around. Bakstedt called it right….watch for Ciolek…he rode the smartest in the finale.

    Was thinking: will this edition be remembered as one of the ‘epics’…or will the shortened course remove some of the lustre? I hope for the former (the images would support this).

    • I think one way to look at this is to ask whether Ciolek would win if it was 300km? Now you can replay the same race 10 times and perhaps result will be different each time. But we had a series of selections and in the crucial moment Ciolek made the right move with Sagan and Cancellara which suggests the strongest guys all made the finish together.

      If the early break had stayed away all day because everyone else slowly got hypothermia then you’d know the weather made the race. The edition saw the weather hit the race but we still got the big names together. A shame Le Manie was dropped off.

  17. I reckon there will be plenty of riders who finished this MSR who will relate the story to others in the future with the intro: ‘I was in that MSR with all that weather in ’13 when Ciolek had that brilliant win…’

    • He’s from western/central France but he’s flourished since trying the northern classics with Cofidis, a northern French team and then joining OPQS. Sometimes called “Chava”, sometimes “Mimo” after Mimosa, a flower common in the south of France, I think his third nickname of “Machine” suit hims better. Even his face, with the skin stretched tight over the cheeks and jaw, says Machine.

  18. My favourite race did not fail to impress the living shit out of me!
    Heaps of beautiful drama from the Cipressa to the finish line!
    Many moves doomed to failure, but courageously played!
    And a perfect display of keeping-your-cool from Ciolek!
    When he crossed the finish line my wife thought I had gone bezerk…
    I had indeed!!!

  19. Ian BangHard. The Stan Banger. Stan Hard with Avengance. Lord Ian of Epic. What a ride. As soon as Thomas crashed he was on one. I can only imagine Stannard’s frenzied, beast-like battle cry when Brailsford gave him his fun pass. I’m sure that alone broke many riders. Hope Sky unleash him in the other Classics. Big up to The Silver Chav too, watching him and Stannard decimating the tarmac was quite awesome. Brilliant riders.

    Equally brilliant was Backsted’s story about having to pour hot team all over himself.

  20. Ciolek’s only 26???? Damm, thought he was at vet levels, he’s been around for ages….well ever since I started watching in 2008. He wasn’t mentioned as a prospect, so I put him in the same category as a Stegemans or Benatti, really a lead-out guy or someone who’ll get a lot of 4th and 5th places. Perhaps it says a lot about his actual talent as a rider that his lack of experience and age didn’t really show. Impressive.

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