Laurence Pithie took part in a cycling Monument for the very first time on Saturday in the 115th Milano-Sanremo. This discovery, in the leader’s shoes, turned out to be quite successful for the young 21-year-old New Zealander, who only missed one kilometre to follow the best at the summit of the Poggio. Then in contention for the top-20, thirty-five seconds behind the winner Jasper Philipsen, the rider from Groupama-FDJ secured a very decent fifteenth place on the fastest ever “Primavera”, after the perfect support from his teammates all day long. Just a starting point.

From Pavia to Sanremo, the riders were this Saturday about to tackle the “shortest” “Classicissima” since the shortened edition of 2013. Officially, 288 kilometers were on the menu for the first Monument of the season, to which it was necessary to add the six kilometres of the neutral start. The mythical 300-kilometre mark couldn’t therefore be reached, but the final promised to be just as thrilling as usual. Before things got serious in the last seventy kilometres, the breakaway first took the spotlights after twenty minutes of racing. Eleven men found themselves in front, including Lorenzo Germani! “Lorenzo’s mission was to control a bit at the start in the event that WorldTour teams entered the breakaway,” explained Yvon Caër. “He did his job well, and by following a move, he found himself in front. It then took us a while to be able to overtake the bunch to talk with him. We then thought that he would be more useful with his leaders than in the breakaway. He had a very specific job at the start of the race and on the seaside, so I’d rather have him work alongside Laurence.” The breakaway, reduced to ten men, also never enjoyed a three-minute gap as the bunch proved quite cautious. After safely passing Passo del Turchino shortly before halfway, the riders got to the “Lungomare”, in Liguria, where the situation remained stable for an additional hour.

“I missed a little bit today, but it’s a good experience,” Laurence Pithie

The tension finally rose, as expected, as they approached the three Capi, about seventy kilometres from the finish. Thanks to Clément Russo and Sam Watson’s support, the strong men of Groupama-FDJ were able to overcome these first three climbs in perfect conditions. It was equally so at the bottom of the Cipressa, the penultimate climb of the day, which Stefan Küng, Quentin Pacher and Laurence Pithie entered in the first twenty positions. “Regarding positioning, everyone had their responsibilities, and everyone did a very, very good job,” claimed Yvon. “Clément did a super job, and the approach to the Cipressa was ideal. Our ability to position is one of today’s most satisfying things. Tactically and technically, we lived up to our expectations.” “The team did a super job to keep me in front and well-positioned all day,” testified Laurence, still perfectly in the mix at the top of the Cipressa alongside Stefan Küng and Quentin Pacher in a bunch already reduced to around forty riders. The transition to the last climb proved however less intense, which allowed some riders to return from the back. “Sam came back just before the Poggio, and he put our leaders in the top positions for the climb,” continued Yvon. “Laurence was where he needed to be.”

A big pull from the Briton less than a kilometre from the first slopes allowed Laurence Pithie and Stefan Küng to tackle the last climb in the first ten positions. The real push only occurred 2.5 kilometres from the summit through Tim Wellens. The peloton then stretched out, and Tadej Pogacar finally made the expected attack one kilometre from the summit. “I was in position on the Poggio, but I got shuffled back a little bit, and when the best ten riders went, I just didn’t have the legs to follow unfortunately,” said Laurence. “I found myself between the leading group and the bunch.” “He just missed a little bit of strength at the top of the Poggio, nothing more,” added Yvon. Thirteen riders were able to make a gap before the descent, and no one managed to really break away before the finish line. The victory came down to a sprint, and Jasper Philipsen claimed it. Thirty-five seconds later, Laurence Pithie took third place in the first chasing group, which meant 15th on the day. “It’s unfortunate not to be in front,” added Laurence. “The team did a great job, and I can’t thank them enough. It was just me who missed a little bit today, but it’s a good experience. The legs are still good, and I hope my time will come in the next races.”

“It is a very good omen for the future to say the least,” Yvon Caër

Fifteenth in its first Monument, the “Kiwi” has nevertheless given solid guarantees for the future. “The result is satisfying because we have no regrets,” said Yvon. “After a race, I first wonder if we could have done better in terms of attitude and choices. I came out of this race very satisfied regarding these criteria. We did the race we had to do, we were beaten by stronger riders, and Laurence is very young, and he’s still maturing. He rode Milano-Sanremo for the first time, his experience in the WorldTour is still quite limited even if he is progressing fast. He didn’t miss much to follow the best thirteen, but it’s Milano-Sanremo, a Monument, with the world’s best riders. This is the first time he made this Poggio effort in a racing situation. This is a very good omen for the future to say the least, and I think he has the potential to do very, very well in Milano-Sanremo in the future. I think he learned a lot today.” On the line, Laurence Pithie was also followed by Quentin Pacher (19th) and Stefan Küng (23rd). “Stefan raced Wednesday and Thursday, he crashed two days ago, but he was still there to do the hard work at the bottom of the Poggio”, concluded Yvon. “We are reassured about his physical condition. Quentin is still doing well also. Both had the mission of supporting Laurence and they did it very well.”

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