The longest race and the shortest of write-ups. Jasper Stuyven won Milan-Sanremo thanks to a bold late attack, which was a surprise win but no shock.
An early break of eight, and all on TV too, with the cameras showing the race from start to finish. The curiosity was that a World Tour squad like Trek-Segafredo had a rider up the road in Nicola Conc,i but they have an Italian streak and in Segafredo, an Italian sponsor… and maybe had a plan too? Jumbo-Visma, Deceuninck-Quickstep and Alpecin-Fenix quickly took up position at the front of the bunch and one of the images of the long early phase of the race was the sight of the peloton in a long line as the three teams set a solid pace.
There were few incidents, the capi climbed fast thanks to the tailwind and the early breakaway shrank with Intermarché-Wanty’s Taco van den Hoorn the last to fold. Jumbo-Visma and Ineos led up the Cipressa like it was the Galibier in July. There were no attacks, as the pace was just too high. One rider with problems on the Cipressa was Caleb Ewan, but he reportedly made a crazy descent to get back in contention.
Onto the Poggio and it took a while for home broadcasters RAI to say “Ganna” out loud as their hulking hero was reduced to a gregario and indeed later, as the closing credits rolled across the screen, the same commentators were still lamenting Ganna’s reduced role. Ineos instead were backing Michał Kwiatkowski and Tom Pidcock, and Ganna’s pace helped prevent any early attacks.
Alaphilippe made his move on the Poggio but it was telegraphed, where we knew before the race he’d launch here, but he reminded everyone when he kept looking back to see who was on his wheel. Who? About a dozen riders with Wout van Aert, then Schachmann and the rest close by (look at the picture above and in the centre is an out of focus Stuyven). Wout van Aert had the match of Alaphilippe and looked set to play his sprint card rather than forge a breakaway. Seconds later, Stuyven was almost distanced, and he seemed on the limit, but that’s the point, as everyone knows this is the place for a maximum effort to get in the move.
Stuyven surged just as the descent was coming to an end and carried speed off the slope. This wasn’t a blazing guns spectacular, but more a stealth move in the saddle, where at first he appeared to drift off the front but kept going, presumably pouring on the watts and later said it was on instinct, where he saw an opportunity and took it. The others hesitated, Kwiatkowski peeled off the side, Anthony Turgis did a pull and then everyone started taking stock. Søren Kragh Andersen jumped and this looked dangerous, and he floated across to Stuyven who seemed to ease up a touch, but this gave him a brief breather and in slowing, Stuyven forced SKA to take the lead or it would be over for both of them. SKA threatened to poach the win, and the pair were only metres ahead going into the final S-bends that lead to the Via Roma. Behind the group was hesitating again and the gap seemed to grow a little. SKA led onto the finishing straight, but Stuyven still had something left and, after a moment’s shelter on the Dane’s wheel, launched and just held off a fast-closing Caleb Ewan. Stuyven wisely sat up to celebrate only once he’d crossed the line.
A surprise win; a bold win. All the attention was on the three riders before the race, and during it, as their teams led the peloton for hours. Once again, it was a slow burn before the tense finale and the action came even later than usual, occurring at the end of the Poggio rather than the start.
There’s plenty to please the crowd when van Aert, Alaphilippe or van der Poel win given their status, charisma and often the manner of their wins but there’s sport when they lose, too, and many in the peloton will take cheer from Stuyven’s win today as it gives them hope for the upcoming classics.