Alongside the race rookie Quentin Pacher, Arnaud Démare brilliantly made his way through the final of the 113th edition of Milan-Sanremo on Saturday. Unfortunately, he just missed a few meters to be able to go for a top result on the Via Roma. The former French Champion reached the finish line in a second chase group, a handful of seconds behind the winner Matej Mohoric, but was still able to come away with tenth place after an extremely selective race. Quentin Pacher placed twentieth for his first appearance in the race.
For once, the first “Monument” of the cycling season did not start near the monuments of Milan’s city centre this Saturday morning. For this 2022 edition, the organization had indeed decided to move the start to a mythical place of Italian cycling: the Maspes-Vigorelli velodrome. This is where Arnaud Démare and his teammates had to be shortly before ten o’clock in order to take part in the “Classicissima”, which was a first for Quentin Pacher. After a few kilometres in Milan, the breakaway formed right at the start with Yevgeniy Gidich, Artyom Zakharov (Astana Qazaqstan), Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè), Samuele Rivi, Diego Pablo Sevilla (Eolo-Kometa), Filippo Tagliani, Ricardo Alejandro Zurita (Androni-Sidermec) and Filippo Conca (Lotto Soudal). They managed to take the lead without properly fighting for it, while the bunch waited a few minutes to set its own tempo. “The goal was clear for us”, said Sébastien Joly. “We had to work for Arnaud, and each guy had a role at some point in the race”. In the first half of the route leading to Passo del Turchino, the peloton let the day’s fugitives take a seven-minute lead, but the gap then gradually reduced as they reached the seaside. Approaching the Capi, about fifty kilometres from the goal, the tension seriously increased within the pack, and Clément Davy then took the lead to protect his teammates and especially Arnaud Démare. However, the fight really got harder about twenty kilometres further.
“It was possible to fight for the podium”, Arnaud Démare
“We were expecting the Cipressa to be done very fast, and that’s why positioning at the bottom of the Cipressa was as important as that at the bottom of the Poggio,” insisted Sébastien Joly. It eventually was up to the Luxembourg champion Kevin Geniets to position his leader well at that point. “It was an incredible race, and we knew it was going to be hard in the Cipressa,” continued Arnaud. “When they started pulling strong, I was not surprised but the pace was still crazy. It was impressive. I was at the limit, but I held on, and we were just 30 at the top, which is very little at this stage of the race”. Due to a very high tempo set by the teammates of Tadej Pogacar and Wout van Aert, the peloton indeed exploded and many sprinters were left behind. Arnaud Démare was still there, and also had the company of Quentin Pacher. “The goal for me was to go over the Cipressa and help Arnaud before the Poggio, or even throughout the whole final”, said the Frenchman. “When we got over the Cipressa, there was only a small group. It was a little easier to find each other and for me to support him.” After the traditional transition to the Poggio, the favourites group tackled the last climb with nine kilometres to go and immediately caught up with the last men from the morning breakaway. Various attacks, in particular from Tadej Pogacar, occurred in this iconic climb, but real gaps could not be made.
At this point, Arnaud Démare was only trying to hang on as much as possible behind the puncher-climbers. He said: “At the bottom of Poggio, I suffered a split after the crash of Cosnefroy, and I had to come across a first time. There was another attack then, and I was in the wheel of Roglic, but he left the gap. I was at the limit, I couldn’t bridge the gap myself. Quentin was there, he made a great effort to limit the damage so that we could tackle the downhill just a few seconds behind the first group”. “While the group was splitting up, I found myself with Arnaud and I paced him in the last part of the climb before he went on the downhill to get back to the leaders”, added the 30-year-old rider. Just a handful of seconds behind at the top, the former French champion actually seemed about to make it across after the first turns. “I went full gas on the downhill, I was starting to come back to the group, but then, Nizzolo crashed”, said Arnaud. “There was another split in the group that finally arrived for second place”. A bit unlucky in the final, the French sprinter was therefore unable to return to the “main” group. However, the latter did not catch Matej Mohoric either, as the Slovenian flew away in the downhill and got a solo win. Arnaud Démare crossed the line eleven seconds later, in tenth position. “It was possible to fight for the podium, even if I don’t know what the result would have been,” said Arnaud. “Physically, I was great, but I knew it. Today, there was not much more to do.”
“A step forward for me”, Quentin Pacher
“Arnaud didn’t miss much,” added Sébastien. “In my opinion, he’s improved again physically when you see how the Cipressa was done. He shows that he’s up there when it comes to the legs. The goal was obviously to win, but they did, and he did, a great race. Sometimes you also have to be satisfied with great days like this one. It’s still a very important top-10 when you see those ahead of him. It’s frustrating because with a bit of luck, we could have played a better place than tenth, but sports-wise, he showed that he was there”. For his first try at the event, Quentin Pacher did not disappoint either. He even got a noteworthy top-20 on the Via Roma. “It’s a good surprise,” added Sébastien. “Quentin came at short notice, but he was extremely motivated to take part in this race. He showed that with desire, passion, in addition to his condition, he could be very helpful in the final for Arnaud, even without experience in the race”. The Frenchman concluded: “I am really satisfied with this first Milano-Sanremo. It was very satisfying to be in the final and to be alongside Arnaud. In general, being in the final of a Monument is a step forward for me. I think we did a good race as a team and that obviously makes me want to come back another time, with more experience”.