Having placed in the top ten in four of the last five editions of Milano-Sanremo, the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, was looking to become the first man to win the race in the rainbow stripes in more than 30 years. Making an audacious attack on the Poggio, the BORA-hansgrohe rider made the 108th edition of the UCI World Tour’s longest race one to remember, just beaten to the win on the line after an audacious attack on the upper slopes of the Poggio, but taking top spot in the UCI World Tour after a successful start to his season.
The first of cycling’s five Monuments – the hardest, most prestigious and most historic one-day races in the cycling calendar – ‘La Primavera’ is known as the sprinters’ classic. However, this does not mean the going is easy – the distance alone, at 291km, makes this one of the longest one-day races, while the course itself features some testing climbs that come just at the time riders will be feeling the distance in their legs. The most famous is the Poggio – just a few kilometres before the finish. While the average gradient, at just 3.7%, is fairly gentle by professional cycling’s standards, with nearly 300km already raced at the relentless pace only sprinters can muster, this is the point at which the eventual winner has to make sure they’re at the front in order to contest the finale.
In spite of the distance ahead of them, some brave souls made the jump after 10km, quickly building up a sizeable advantage. With a long day still ahead of them, the peloton allowed the break to go out ahead – knowing that the final 30km of the race were where the fireworks were going to happen. With some windy and foggy weather on the roads ahead, the contenders were conserving their energy for the finale, with BORA-hansgrohe taking charge at the front to control the pace to keep Peter Sagan fresh for the finish. The kilometres ticked down and the break fell from more than five minutes to two as the race neared its final 50km.
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The Cipressa was where the race came alive – the day’s penultimate climb and where the break was finally caught. No sooner had the escapees been reeled in, when the attacks came as fresher legs took charge, making audacious attempts to break away, only to be pulled back by the sprint teams, who were massing near the front. Knowing the race well, the UCI World Champion kept his head and saved himself for the day’s final climb, the Poggio. Sitting in the middle of the bunch as the road turned upwards, the Slovak rider was well-protected by his teammates – close enough to react to any attacks, but not so far ahead that he was expending energy.
With 6.3km of the race left, Peter attacked with a devastating turn of speed, dropping the peloton and with only a couple of riders able to go with him. Holding off the bunch in a way only he can with immense speed on the descent into Sanremo, it was all down to the three riders on the front as the finish line loomed. Putting everything into his sprint, Peter was just beaten by Sky’s Kwiatkowski, throwing his bike at the line to try and take the few centimetres that would make the difference.
While he wasn’t able to take the win, Peter was pleased with the exciting finale – both for himself and the fans watching the race. “I gave my all today. My team did a great job getting me to the Poggio safely. Luckily we didn’t crash – that was really important, as it was very close at the finish line after I finished my sprint. I think it’s important for the fans to have a spectacle – everyone’s happy. It was instinct to attack on the Poggio – I tried and after I attacked I saw I was alone, and then Kwiatkowski and Alaphilippe came with me. We descended to the finale and made it something really special.”
BORA-hansgrohe Team Coach, Patxi Vila, saw the race unfold exactly as planned, only for Peter just to miss out on the line. “Today’s race followed the plan we had. We knew that Peter had to attack on the Poggio because that was the only point where he could drop everybody. From the morning, our objective was to bring him there in the best position possible and the squad did a very good job. He went on fire on the Poggio and the goal was to go solo, but Kwiatkowski and Alaphilippe went after him. We had expected the last two guys to go with him would be them, and it proved to be the case. Peter then did an incredible job in the descent and then the flat part but, unfortunately, he was beaten on the line by Kwiatkowski. It hurts when you lose by a couple of centimetres but that’s how it is. It’s part of the game. Still, Peter and the whole team deserve congratulations for their big effort.”
Friday sees Peter start E3 Harelbeke – a race he won in 2014 and came second in last year’s edition. As the season’s first cobblestone classic, riders can expect the going to be hard, in a way only Belgian races can be.