An enthralling edition of Milan-San Remo on Saturday had a few surprises up its sleeve
French cycling is definitely on the up
In case you missed the statistic (unlikely, we know), Arnaud Démare’s victory in Milan-San Remo was the first for a Frenchman since Laurent Jalabert in 1995. Few would have picked the 24-year-old as a potential winner, but he’s part of a new generation of French riders who seem to be turning their nation’s cycling fortunes around.
This particularly seems to apply to Démare’s FDJ squad, who have spent the off-season perfecting their aerodynamics and time trialling – with the result of placing a ‘surprise’ third in the Tirreno-Adriatico team time trial. FDJ are suddenly looking like a fresh new outfit.
There are only so many times you can be ‘surprised’ by the team now, and Démare’s Monument win can be added to his stage win at Paris-Nice last week. We’ll be looking to Thibaut Pinot to make a dream year for FDJ and French cycling by placing on the podium in the Tour de France in July.
The only Frenchman not celebrating in San Remo was Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), who was left punching his handlebars in frustration after what looked like a slipped gear in the final sprint.
A quick change of course
Three out of the four WorldTour races run so far this year have had their route affected by what used to be described as an ‘Act of God’. Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico both had to cancel stages due to adverse weather conditions, and Milan-San Remo had to undergo a quick route change due to a heavy rockfall blocking its path.
A sizeable landslide on the morning of the race had completely blocked both lanes of a road after the Turchino climb.
A suitable alternative route was found using a nearby highway, adding a few more kilometres onto the route, but so seamlessly that anyone watching on television would not have known. The way in which the race’s organiser worked with police to re-route the race with zero disruption is to be applauded.
Where were the favourites?
It must have been a good day for any bookies taking bets on Milan-San Remo (well, unless a whole load of people put a whole load of money on Arnaud Démare) because a lot of the big pre-race favourites were not in the top 10.
No Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segfredo), no Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), no Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), no Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data)… Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) finished sixth, and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) fifth. Their cause was not helped by a large group of riders contesting the finish, with sprint specialists taking the spoils. But equally, they didn’t help their own chances for glory by being over-wary of each other in the chase of Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) on the descent of the Poggio.
A game of ‘I’m not going to lead you out’ ended with the favourites group being caught and passed by the rampaging peloton. Even fading star Filippo Pozzato (Southeast) managed to be the highest-placed Italian.
Ben Swift: a Milan-San Remo win in 2018?
British sprinter Ben Swift is one of the most under-rated talents on Team Sky. He is often left to his own devices to contest sprints in stage races as the squad eyes bigger overall aims.
In 2014, the Rotherham man proved that he is among the best by placing third in Milan-San Remo – two years later and now he’s gone one better, placing second.
Extrapolating those results in a very unscientific way, we conclude that he will win the race in 2018.
So many crashes
Despite the race being run in perfect weather conditions – dry, sunny and no wind – the latter stages of the race were affected by a series of crashes.
The race’s 295km distance made for tired legs and weary heads, combine that with the fast pace, ever-changing narrow streets and nerves as teams and riders jostled for position, and it was a recipe for crashes.
Among the pre-race favourites, Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) and Geraint Thomas (Sky) succumbed to a crash on the Cipressa. Although both riders managed to remount and chase back to the peloton, the energy expended and injuries sustained meant that neither rider played a part in the finale.