The sprinters, and Arnaud Démare in particular, never had their chance on Saturday in the 114th Milano-Sanremo. Following a long crescendo, everything shattered on the Poggio, six kilometres from the finish, and four men made a clear difference over the rest of the field. Among them, Mathieu van der Poel proved the strongest and conquered the first Monument of the season while Kevin Geniets and debutant Rudy Molard finished thirty seconds behind, around 30th position.
At the start of Abbiategrasso, in the western suburbs of Milan, “La Primavera” was aptly named on Saturday. The race conditions were indeed ideal for hosting the first Monument of the cycling season. The 302 kilometres of Milano-Sanremo (neutral start included) began shortly after 10 a.m., and while most of the peloton was rather calm, nine riders established the usual breakaway: Alexandr Riabushenko (Astana Qazaqstan) , Samuele Rivi, Mirco Maestri (Eolo-Kometa), Samuele Zoccarato, Alessandro Tonelli (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè), Negasi Haylu Abreha (Q36.5), Alexandre Balmer, Jan Maas (Team Jayco AlUla) and Aloïs Charrin ( You sleep). However, and unlike other years, their gap never really took off. Instead of 8-10 minutes, as it often happens, the margin never exceeded three minutes. “The fact there were nine in the lead forced the favorite teams to ride quite fast, especially given the tailwind in the final,” explained Sébastien Joly. Therefore, the long way from Milan to the Ligurian coast, passing through the Passo del Turchino, was done at a good pace. Arriving on the coast, the gap was similar, but it then gradually reduced towards the three “Capi”. When attacking this first intense sequence, the breakaway only had a one-minute lead. The Capo Berta provoked the first damage, but it was the approach of the Cipressa that focused all the attention and ended the fugitives’ attempt.
“Victory was not possible”, Sébastien Joly
Well positioned at the bottom, Arnaud Démare was still with Jake Stewart, Quentin Pacher, Rudy Molard and Kevin Geniets at the top, despite a high tempo. “The tailwind gave quite a crazy final”, said Sébastien. “It was really super fast”. “The race was very stressful from the moment we got to the seaside”, added Kevin. “It was very dangerous.” A hundred riders or so then headed towards the Poggio, which was tackled at full speed from the first metres. The peloton lined up and broke apart just over seven kilometres from the finish. Eight riders went away, then four, then Mathieu van der Poel alone shortly before the summit, setting a record time on the climb. In the back, the Groupama-FDJ riders were unable to compete. On the Via Roma, the Dutchman therefore won solo while Kevin Geniets (29th) and Rudy Molard (30th) crossed the line half a minute later. “We had trouble finding ourselves as a team and our positioning in the Cipressa and the Poggio were not great, which penalized us for the final”, explained Kevin. “Arnaud did not seem at his best physically and Kevin was a bit blocked”, said Sébastien. “They were our two protected riders, but objectively, I think there were way stronger riders than us today. Victory was not possible. The guys fought well, but it was a tough Milan-Sanremo and the Poggio was done extremely fast. The good surprise is Jake, who managed to get over the Cipressa and who worked well for his first Milan-Sanremo”.
“Really happy to discover this race”, Rudy Molard
Also a debutant in the event, despite being 33 years old, Rudy Molard was able to join in the battle until the final and then told the story of this first experience: “It was still a long day, but once we got to the seaside, it went really fast. I did not expect such a fast finish and I did not expect that it would be so hard to position. I felt pretty good in the Cipressa, but I didn’t think it was so fast between the Cipressa and Poggio, and positioning at the bottom of the Poggio was really complicated. I never found the opening to tackle it in the first positions, and if you are not in front, you cannot do anything. I followed, but I couldn’t do better. I was too far at the bottom to hope for anything. Anyway, I was really happy to discover this race and to reach the final with these mythical places that have made the history of our sport. The day of a Monument is always a bit special. I tried to make the most of this race which I have always watched on TV and which I really like. I had a good day, and even if I didn’t have a great result today, it still made me want to come back.”