Simon Gerrans (GreenEdge) won his first monument Saturday, topping Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) in a three-man sprint at Milan-San Remo. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) initiated the winning breakaway high on the Poggio and finished third, just ahead of teammate Peter Sagan in fourth.
“I cannot believe it,” said Gerrans in the melée at the finish line. “It’s just incredible. It doesn’t get any bigger than this.”
The Liquigas squad of Sagan and Nibali dealt world champion Mark Cavendish (Sky) a solid blow on the Le Mànie climb with 94km remaining. Cavendish lost contact with the peloton on the first of the late climbs at “La Primavera.”
After more than 200km of racing, Liquigas and BMC Racing pulled the peloton across the Mediterranean coast toward the Capo Mele. Less than a minute ahead, the day’s long breakaway continued to fracture and with 56km remaining all nine riders were caught.
More than a minute behind the bunch, Matthew Hayman and Team Sky called off the chase for world champion Mark Cavendish. The Manxman, who had hoped to become the first world champion since Guiseppe Saronni in 1983 to win “La Classicissima,” thanked his teammates and drifted back into the group.
At the same time, Philippe Gilbert instructed his BMC Racing teammates in the peloton to share the work. Without the threat of Cavendish returning, the pace slackened over the next 5km and the race reset with about 80 riders arriving to the foot of the Cipressa, 28km from the finish.
Francisco Vila (Utensilnord) jumped 3km into the climb and quickly built an advantage of 15 seconds. Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) rode across the gap and Omega Pharma-Quick Step slowed the pace in the chase.
Gilbert was among a handful of riders to crash on the right side of the road just before the summit. The Belgian remounted quickly, but along with Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Barracuda) lost his chance at contesting the finale.
Liquigas and RadioShack-Nissan drew the two escapees back on the descent from the Cipressa. Many of the pre-race favorites were in the 40-odd-rider peloton, including Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack), Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas). Defending champion Matthew Goss (GreenEdge) sat on the back of the lead group with the Poggio looming just 3km up the road.
Rabobank went to the front of the race with four riders ahead of the final climb, but Valerio Agnoli attacked for Liquigas immediately. The Italian carried a handful of seconds into the first switchback. Movistar’s Angel Madrazo came across, but Rabobank kept the two riders at arm’s length. A moment later, Agnoli was finished and Madrazo set out on his own. The Spaniard was soon caught back and the big names came to the fore.
Vincenzo Nibali unleashed an attack 1km from the summit and only Cancellara and Simon Gerrans (GreenEdge) could match the pace. The three took just shy of 10 seconds over the summit, chased by a group of eight riders led by Oscar Freire’s Katusha team.
Cancellara led the leaders down the winding road toward San Remo, keeping the chasers at just more than five seconds. Gerrans and Nibali fought hard to stay on the wheel of the big Swiss, winner of the Strade Bianche two weeks earlier.
Behind the leaders, Sagan sat third in the chase group, trailing his Italian teammate behind the red-clad Katusha chasers.
Gerrans contributed to the work on the front, Nibali tucked into the tail position, and Cancellara led the others into the final kilometer with six seconds. The three worked hard, but looked around a bit inside the final 700 meters.
Gerrans opened the sprint in the right gutter and topped Cancellara by a wheel.
“I couldn’t ask for a better way to win with GreenEdge,” said Gerrans. “This is just the best way to thank Gerry Ryan and the Ryan family, and the likes of Shane Bannon, who’s worked hard to pull the team together. To win one of the monument, a perfect way to say thank you to those guys.”
Brief Unofficial Results
1. Simon Gerrans, GreenEdge
2. Fabian Cancellara, RadioShack-Nissan
3. Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas-Cannondale
4. Peter Sagan, Liquigas-Cannondale
5. John Degenkolb, Project 1T4I