Juilan Alaphillipe stands on the top step of the podium following the first Monument of the 2019 season.
Part of an elite group contesting the win in San Remo, Alaphilippe beat Oliver Naesen (AG2R) and Sky’s Kwiatkowski to the top spot after a tense sprint to the line.
The Frenchman had played a major part in forming the elite group that made it to the finish, launching an attack over the top of Poggio and bringing a number of the strongest men in the sport with him. Peter Sagan, Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali and Kwiatkowski – they were all there – but it was Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) and Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Merida) who tried to make their mark on the run-in to the finish.
Both were caught, however, setting up the battle royal sprint to the line. Mohorič went again, flying past Sagan, who led the way to the line. Alaphilippe masterfully switched wheels before heading into the wind himself after seven hours in the saddle. Another win for the 26-year-old, his best yet.
“It’s difficult to realise what I did and what my team did. They protected me all day. Tim Declercq was pulling all race and in the final we controlled and made the race harder, and I had to do no mistakes”
“I was really focused to control the attacks, and with 600 metres to go when Mohorič went to attack I said ‘it’s now or never’. It’s unbelievable – I saw my teammates after the finish and everybody was crying.
“I made a big effort at the top of the Poggio to make a big selection, and to see what could happen. At the end I was only with strong riders and I tried to recover in the downhill. In the last two kilometres I said I want to win – no second place.
“I need time to realise [what I’ve achieved]. I’m very happy.”
How it unfolded
The riders always consider Milan-San Remo a 300km race because they include the 7.5km neutralised sector out of central Milan as kilometres in the saddle. The official start is at an anonymous point on the Via della Chiesa Rossa that heads south out of Milan.
As soon as the flag dropped, the attacks to go into the early break began. But with the peloton facing seven hours in the saddle, 10 riders were quickly given their freedom and a moment in the Milan-San Remo spotlight.
The peloton let them go and they opened a one-minute gap in 10km. After 30km, the gap was up to 10 minutes, but that was the maximum the peloton allowed before upping the pace and starting to control the breakaway. The average speed for the first hour on the Lombardy plane near Pavia and the River Po was a quick 44.4km/h.
A number of teams agreed to share the work, with Adam Hansen riding for Lotto Soudal, Tim Declercq for Deceuninck-QuickStep, while UAE Team Emirates and Bora-Hansgrohe also helped with the hard graft. The gap to the break began to fall as the Passo del Turchino began to loom on the horizon.
Team Sky and Deceuninck-QuickStep led the way onto the final hill of the race, setting a high pace for their men, Kwiatkowski and Alaphilippe. The first attack came seven kilometres out as Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) launched.
Alaphilippe soon followed, with Kwiatkowski and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) in close pursuit. Cresting the summit, the trio were together with Trentin, Valverde, Naesen and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
Several more riders chased on down the descent, including Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), Mohorič, Nibali (both Bahrain-Merida), and Simon Clarke (EF Education First).
Trentin tried a solo move on the flat, but was chased down by race debutant Van Aert under the flamme rouge. Mohorič went next, 800 metres from the line, before a relative lull in the proceedings as the contenders looked around for the next move.
Sagan hit the front in the final 500 metres, with Alaphilippe glued to his wheel before the brief game of cat and mouse ended as Mohorič went for it again. In a flash, Alaphilippe switched wheels, getting to Mohorič before Naesen could.
In the final 150 metres, Alaphilippe hit the wind once again, as he had on the Poggio. This time, though, he wouldn’t be caught. As it has been so many times already this season, it was just a question of who would be the runner-up…
Resources/Credits: D Ostanek / S Farrand / cyclingnews / Bettini Photo