The 26 year-old from Oslo went long in the sprint to leave Fabian Cancellara (Trek and Switzerland) and a surprising Ben Swift (Sky & GB) in the minor placings with big finishers Mark Cavendish (QuickStep & GB), Sasha Modolo (Lampre & Italy) and Gerald Ciolek (MTN & Germany) all in the top ten but no match for the Viking.
The action started some seven hours previously and far to the north . . .
The roads were damp and the skies grey for the Milano roll out with the ‘break of the day’ disappearing up the road within the first 15 minutes of racing; only three World Tour teams were represented, Matteo Bono (Lampre & Italy), Nathan Haas (Garmin Sharp & Australia) and Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin & The Netherlands).
The other four of the Seven Samurai were all Pro Continental wild cards, ‘honouring the race,’ Jan Barta (NetApp-Endura & Czech Republic), Nicola Boem (Bardiani-CSF & Italy), Marc de Maar (United Healthcare & Curacao) and Antonio Parrinello (Androni Giocatolli & Italy).
The wet rollout in Milano this morning
The organisers confirmed by email the finalised percorso as:
Passo del Turchino just before the halfway point, the three Capi (Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta) in quick succession around the 250 km mark, and then the famous climbs: the Cipressa (km 272: 5.65 km long, average gradient 4.1%, max. 9% – first incorporated into the race route in 1982) and Poggio di Sanremo (km 287.9: 3.7 km long, average gradient 3.7%, max. 8% – first incorporated into the race route in 1961).
The new race route is the same as that used in 2007, when Oscar Freire won the Milano – Sanremo.
And so Act One played as expected, with the break some eight minutes clear after the first 40 kilometres – but Cav and Sagan’s henchmen looked unlikely to let it go too far . . .
The early break out for a long and wet adventure
Albeit nine minutes was the margin at 50 K but that gap remained stable through to 90 K but stretched out to over 10 rotations of the minute hand once the 200 K to go point was passed.
Act Two began on the gentle grade of the Turchino Pass at 140 K as the Cannondale-inspired peloton decided that enough was enough and the time gap to the break began to slip; especially when Trek and Giant joined Sagan’s team on the front to ride for Cancellara and Degenkolb respectively.
Down off the Turchino and onto the coast road past Genoa the rain was falling and the gap down to six minutes as they entered the last 100 K of the 300 which make this race unique. But the lucky seven had lost a man – Boem succumbing to cramp – as we picked up the live images with the peloton riding tempo and in not too much of a hurry to pull the break back – pull them back too early and a counter move will go.
Grey skies and an angry Ligurian Sea on the caped-up riders’ left hand side sending a message that no one with a faint heart would win this race, today.
Inside 80 kilometres – and harder than hard Jan Barta leads the sodden break through the murk with the lead still over six minutes on a strung out peloton with many riders already thinking about missing out the Poggio and riding straight along the coast to San Remo. And then there were five – as Haas punctures.
Deserted beaches, shuttered windows, only the keenest of drenched tifosi roadside, the gap still around six minutes – and the Capi not far away as the ‘kilometres to go’ board says 60 . . .
And then it was four as Parinello cracks.
Giant and Trek chase, NetApp cover for Barta as the famous Alassio sign, fixed to the cliff face comes and goes. Inside six minutes now, de Maar is doing well for a man from the sunny Caribbean – for Czech Barta, ‘it’s normal!’
The holiday resort of Laigueglia, but no parasols on the beach as the QuickStep Legion protect their man; rain is also ‘normal’ for a man like Mark Cavendish who hails from the middle of the Irish Sea.
Act Three and those three Capi loom; as the four still work hard for the money and the gap slides toward five minutes. Greipel and Cav are to the fore in the peloton as the sheet music turns towards the last act which begins with these three Capi. In a Giro stage they wouldn’t merit a mention; but six hours in at high speed – they’re brutal as riders slip off the line.
Cannondale and Katusha at the head of affairs as they come off the Cervo with just Berta to go – and the break stick to their guns, respect.
Barta cracks on the Berta and it’s just Three Little Indians left with three minutes in their back packs. ‘De boonch’ – as Sean might say – Cav’s there, Slagter, Greipel, Cancellara; and they’ve crested the Berta as the break drops through the greenery back to sea level.
Next up is the first of two major examinations for the sprinters, the Cipressa – where the rouleurs and hard men and their team mates will try to kill the fast men. Capes come off at the front of the peloton as the Cipressa approaches – at the rear the weak are sliding off, one by one.
QuickSteps Renshaw and Kwiatkowski are among them – bad news for The Missile. Still the three in the break spell and have two minutes as they approach the Cipressa; but they’ll probably succumb there as the pain dial goes clicked up to 11 in the peloton.
Lotto drive into the climb as Bono cracks; just Tjallingii and de Maar survive up ahead as De Marchi for Cannondale dumps the nitrous oxide in; it’s a plane crash but a surprising Ben Swift is right there as is Degenkolb (Giant & Germany), Ciolek – and Nibali goes. Can he sustain it – or is it for the cameras?
He looks good but there’s still a long way to go; he has to crest the Cipressa, bomb the decent, burn the coast road, survive the Poggio and hang on through Sanremo – it’s unlikely. He throws himself off the summit; but behind Cav, Greipel and Degenkolb are all still there. Nibali is banking on the fact that he can drop of the top faster than the peloton as he drives up to the two heroes – Tjallingii and de Maar.
They can’t live with him on the slick tar; impressive bike riding as he hits the coast road and it’s time trial time for The Shark – nine K to the Poggio. The peloton is in shreds, maybe 25/30 left; Cannondale, BMC, Trek – and Greipel is well up the string, albeit puffing and panting. Nibali has 49 seconds – it’s possible.
Tjallingii still drives on in no mans’ land; impressive – but doomed. Nibali, 44 seconds, 43, 42, 41, 40, Sky have three and Cav is still there.
Tjallingii concedes; 26 seconds for Nibali – Sky, Lotto, BMC, Trek all drive – 16 seconds to Nibali and he’s doomed. The Poggio – The Finale – Greipel right there, Rast goes for Trek, a spring board for Cancellara? Enrico Battaglin comes across for Bardiani – impressive.
Sky chase, Battaglin drives, Rast hangs on, Gilbert counters for BMC, Bennati follows for Tinkoff – and it’s compatto. The top – I should be in that bar! – Cav’s still there, it should be his.
The descent, tricky, slick, Mollema (Belkin), van Avermaet (BMC), Bennatti, Swift, Sagan – that’s it, they’re in Sanremo. Colbrelli (Bardiani) goes on the long straight before the left hander – no chance; Greipel comes back; Katusha lead; red kite and the group has gelled again with Paolini very active – it must be for Kristoff.
The Norwegian seizes the day and goes long, Cancellara is there, Modolo goes too, Cav stamps on the 11 but there’s nothing there and he stalls; Modolo locks up, Swift comes late but it’s Kristoff, easily. Cancellara curses to second, Swift steals third – an impressive ride by the Sky man.
No surprise to PEZ, as I said in our preview:
Alex Kristoff (Katusha & Norway) remember the London Olympics; he took bronze in the road race. He thrives on long, tough races and gets that little bit better each year – he was top ten last year.
But we’re surprised to see no mention of team mate Luca Paolini on the provisional start sheet; he loves this race, has been on the podium in the past and just seems to get stronger as he gets older.
Kristoff Commented after the race: The team did incredible work. Katusha was absolutely amazing during the entire race – each of my teammates was great. Luca Paolini helped me a lot in the final to get a good position for the sprint. It was a very difficult and unpredictable sprint. A sprint after 300 km is different from one after 200 km. Normally I don’t lose much power even on a long stage. I saw Cavendish, who started his sprint, so I started mine, too. For the last 150 meters I had super power and was able to hold the others off. I was super happy when I saw I’d taken the win. It was the best moment in my life. Right now I’m enjoying this moment and I’m super happy. It’s the highlight of my career.
Mark Cavendish said: “It was really so cold today, I felt incredible all day. I’d like to say I launched early in my sprint, but I don’t think I had any other option. When Modolo (Lampre-Merida) went my only other option was to go then. It was too early, but I don’t think I had much choice. I think maybe in other conditions, where I wasn’t so cold, I would maybe have a little bit left and could have stayed longer. But I really decided to sprint and my legs just stopped. I sat down and my legs just didn’t go anymore. Kristoff came back so, so fast. I gave everything and I managed fifth. But, I am happy with the form. A few of the guys were really cold earlier in the race. Iljo Keisse looked after me the whole day, riding in the wind for the first 150 kilometers. It was hard to even communicate, even looking around at any of the teams, it was so cold. Bakelants did an absolutely incredible job for me today. He rode the majority of the last 70 kilometers in the wind for me. Styby was there in the last climbs always staying with me. I felt super on the last climbs, but not really in the sprint. So, I am disappointed, but I can take some positives from today and look forward to the rest of the season. As for being there at the end of Milano-Sanremo, my team believes in me, I believe in myself, and that’s the most important thing to me. Given the circumstances, I gave everything and don’t think I could have done anything differently.”
Peter Sagan’s quotes after Milano-Sanremo: “This is not the result I expected but I suffered a lot the cold and the bad the weather. It was really not easy to perform as I wanted in the finale. I felt my legs blocked and I wasn’t able to sprint strong. It was an hard day, not so different compared to last year. Anyway, I’m disappointed for this result but I have to accept and look after. I did my best in this condition and, with my team, we managed the race as we wanted. We have nothing to regret. I want to thank my teammates because they supported me in a such great way and worked a lot in front of the peloton – Now I want to turn the page quickly and to find new satisfaction in Belgium.”
Another Primavera, another epic, the best race in the world? – For sure!
2014 Milan Sanremo Results:
1 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha
2 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing
3 Ben Swift (GBr) Team Sky
4 Juan Jose Lobato Del Valle (Spa) Movistar Team
5 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team
6 Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bardiani-CSF
7 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team
8 Sacha Modolo (Ita) Lampre-Merida
9 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) MTN-Qhubeka
10 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale