SANREMO, Italy (VN) — Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka) won the weather-shortened 104th edition of Milano-Sanremo on Sunday.
Ciolek found himself in a fast six-man group coming off the rain-slick Poggio — along for the ride were Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard), Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Luca Paolini (Katusha) and Ian Stannard (Sky).
Stannard was on the front in the finale, but Sagan was first to get the ball rolling. The Cannondale strongman went too soon, however, and Ciolek overhauled the young Slovak as he faded just before the line. Sagan had to settle for second with Cancellara third.
“I was on Sagan’s wheel, and that was the best place to be,” said the 26-year-old German, who showed his strength earlier with strong finishes at Tirreno-Adriatico.
“This is an unbelievable success for us and just an incredible day. We just came here as a wildcard and now we’re standing here with the trophy. This is great. I knew I had to follow all the best riders on the Poggio and it worked out perfectly.”
Sagan, meanwhile, said he worked too hard, jumped too soon and underestimated the competition.
“Maybe today wasn’t my day,” he said. “Races are won and lost, but you always have to try.
“Near the finish I expected a move from Cancellara and thought I was the fastest, but I underestimated the group. I worked too hard earlier and paid for that in my legs. I jumped too early in the sprint and paid for that too. I’m disappointed, but it’s also an experience. A second place in an important classic like Milan-Sanremo is not bad.”
And Cancellara proclaimed himself happy with third, saying he felt fortunate to finish the grueling day in the saddle.
“I didn’t expect to finish so well in this race,” he said. “I had some bad moments today so I’m happy with third place. In fact, I’m happy to be at the finish at all. Ciolek won but everyone is a hero today.”
From bike to bus to bike
Snow caused organizers to deem the snowy 532-meter Turchino climb north of Genoa too dangerous to race. Instead, a six-man break and the chasing peloton climbed aboard their team buses for a lift from Ovada to Cogoleto, where the race restarted with 126km remaining.
Also removed from the contest was the descent of Le Manie, likewise a decision made “for the safety of the riders,” according to race directors.
The changes on the road slashed nearly 53km from what ordinarily is the longest one-day race of the pro calendar, cutting it from 298km to 245km.
The break — Lars Bak (Lotto Belisol), Pablo Lastras (Movistar), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r La Mondiale), Maxim Belkov (Katusha), Filippo Fortin (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox) and Diego Rosa (Androni Giocattoli) — got back to business with the 7:10 advantage it held when the race was halted.
Fortin came off the break some 70km from the finish. Sky was active at the front of the pursuit, as were Cannondale, Omega Pharma and Astana, and the heavily swaddled peloton steadily nibbled away at the leaders’ advantage as the race rolled toward the trio of hills — Capo Mele, Capo Cero and Capo Berta — preceding the real action.
What remained of the bunch swept up the escapees with 30km to race.
On the deck
Three kilometers after the break was retrieved a crash took down Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin).
The spill saw a five-man group take a small lead: Chavanel, Maxime Bouet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Thomas Lovkvist (IAM Cycling), Damiano Caruso (Cannondale) and Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol). They weren’t given much leash, however, and the bunch was back together with 25km to go.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) fell off the pace on the Cipressa, as did Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack-Leopard) and defending champion Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge).
Gilbert gives it some gas
World champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) attacked on the wet, treacherous descent of the Cipressa with 20km to race. British road champion Stannard, Cancellara and Sagan soon joined up, with a half-dozen others.
Then Stannard punched it with Russian champ Eduard Vorganov (Katusha) and Chavanel and the three put some daylight between themselves and the others.
With 14km to race the trio had less than 30 seconds over the chase going into the Poggio. Chavanel gave it some stick, to no particular effect, and the gap fell to 20 seconds with 12km to go.
Then Stannard took the front to push the pace. He and Chavanel took turns attacked each other, distancing the Russian — and then Chavanel rid himself of the Brit.
Behind, Maxim Iglinsky (Astana) shot out of the chase and quickly rode up to Vorganov, only to overcook a corner and lose some of his momentum.
Ahead, Stannard regained Chavanel’s wheel with 7.5km to go. Iglinsky was at 13 seconds with the main chase at 30 seconds, led by Cannondale for Sagan.
Stannard surged once more as behind, Luca Paolini (Katusha) jumped out of the chase.
Sagan, Cancellara and Ciolek moved forward next — and then Cancellara surged. Sagan followed, as did the others, and they dove down the Poggio and toward the finish.
Chavanel and Stannard remained the leaders, but just barely — the four-man chase was just behind and closing fast.
With 5km to race Sagan led Cancellara, Ciolek and Paolini, and a kilometer later they had joined the two leaders.
Chavanel took the front, but with 2.5km to go Sagan jumped, forcing Cancellara to chase. Stannard sat at the back, then rolled forward and away, pushing a huge gear and opening a respectable gap as Cancellara and Sagan watched each other.
But it was not respectable enough. The Brit was shut down in the final kilometer, and while he remained on the front as the sprint began to unfold, he would have to be content with sixth at the finish.
• MTN-Qhubeka, the first African-registered UCI Pro Continental team, had big plans before its riders ever toed the line for Milano-Sanremo. Team principal Doug Ryder hopes to take his squad to a grand tour, perhaps the Vuelta a España, as soon as this season.
• Chavanel may not have won the day — he finished fourth — but he did take over the lead in the UCI WorldTour standings. The Omega Pharma rider tops the charts with 120 points, followed by Richie Porte (Sky), with 113 and Tom Jelte Slagter (Blanco) with 111.
“It’s bittersweet when you are so close to winning a big moment as Milano-Sanremo and then you don’t win,” said Chavanel. “I’m a little bit disappointed, but at the same time feel really good for the job I did. I have also the surprise to be number one in the WorldTour rankings. Only now after the race and a shower, that I realize it’s not so bad to be number one in the world, even for a week.”
• Among the marquee names calling it quits on Sunday was Omega Pharma’s Tom Boonen, who was decidedly unhappy. Speaking with the Belgian TV channel Sporza, he said: “There are two reasons for me giving up. First I’m frozen and I don’t want to be sick. Second it’s a statement to the organizers.” Teammate Mark Cavendish stuck it out and finished ninth on the day.