Belgian rider Wout van Aert of Team Jumbo Visma took an epic victory at the first Monument of the revised 2020 season - the Milan - San Remo, just one week after crushing the field on the dusty roads of Strade Bianche.
'WVA' beat defending champion, Frenchman Julian Alaphillipe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) in a two-up sprint on the Via Roma.
The duo had made it away over the Poggio, 6.5km from the line, with Alaphilippe launching from the front of the peloton as they neared the top of the decisive final climb of the extended 305km race.
Only Strade Bianche winner Van Aert was able to follow, though he was forced to drag back several seconds back over the top, such was the force of the Frenchman's move. He made it back on the descent, however, with the pair flying down and holding off the peloton despite the descending talents of Matej Mohorič (Bahrain McLaren) and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) giving chase.
Van Aert said of the Frenchman's attack after the race:
“Hold on, hold on, hold on! That was the only thing on my mind,"
“Actually, it didn't happen. He went quite early and I had to close a little gap. I dropped again but there was nobody behind me, so I had no choice but to keep pushing and I was rewarded because I came back on the downhill"
The pair rode together to the line with the peloton bearing down but just not able to make the catch, while Alaphillipe managed to manoeuvre himself behind Van Aert for the sprint finish. Despite being in prime position to come around, Alaphilippe didn't have quite enough of a kick left to take a second victory in as many years, inching alongside Van Aert but missing out by less than a wheel's length after a huge seven hours and 16 minutes of racing.
Van Aert said:
"Julian played it really well, he put me on the front, and I needed to keep a bit of speed because the bunch was coming back,"
"It was hard to do the right pace and still keep something for the sprint but in the end it was enough, because it was only half a wheel,"
"I'm super happy. I can't believe I've taken these two victories in a row. I don't have words actually. I know everyone says that when they win a Monument but to start the second part of the season like this... it's crazy."
The 2020 edition of Milan-San Remo, the 111th running of the race, was different in more ways than one. After being forced to move to August after the COVID-19 pandemic saw the season disrupted, the route also changed, with the Turchino and Capi climbs all gone after several mayors of coastal towns objected to the race passing through.
As a result, the race ballooned to a 305km inland route with a handful of new climbs added in – nothing too taxing, but everything would add up on the long road from Milan to San Remo.
With over 300 kilometres of racing ahead of the peloton, there wasn't a prolonged battle to make the break of the day, with six riders managing to get away in the first 20 minutes of racing.
Bardiani-CSF got two men in the break with Alessandro Tonelli and Fabio Mazzucco - the Italian duo were joined by Manuele Boaro (Astana), Héctor Carretero (Movistar), Mattia Bais (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Damiano Cima (Gazprom-RusVelo) and Marco Frapporti (Vini Zabù-KTM).
The break's advantage only grew in the early kilometres as the riders traversed an unfamiliar inland route, pushed along by a tailwind. By the 50km mark, the breakaway were 6:30 up the road, while things were calm back in the peloton.
Several teams did the work up front, with Jumbo-Visma, Groupama-FDJ, Lotto Soudal and Deceuninck-QuickStep all putting in a shift at the head of the peloton. With 70km to race, at the top of the long, shallow climb of the Colle di Nava, the break's advantage had fallen to under two minutes.
On the climb, Carretero became the first man to drop back to the peloton, while Mazzucco did the same on the descent. Deceuninck-QuickStep took up the pace-making soon after, bringing the break back for good at the 35km mark on the flat run-in to the Cipressa.
The pace only upped as the peloton neared the penultimate climb of the day, with NTT Pro Cycling also contributing to the work as Alaphilippe suffered a mechanical 25km out.
Loic Vliegen (Circus-Wanty Gobert) and Jacopo Mosca (Trek-Segafredo) attacked at the base of the Cipressa, the first real action for a while, as Bora-Hansgrohe took it up behind to bring the duo back just before the top. Meanwhile, at the rear of the peloton, Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) were in trouble.
Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe) led the way down the descent, opening up such a gap that he was out front alone on the run to the Poggio. Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) put in a brief attack before quickly being caught, before Bob Jungels (Deceuninck-QuickStep) took up the chase, 15 seconds behind Oss.
The Italian almost made it to the Poggio alone but was brought back metres before the climb started as Groupama-FDJ and Team Ineos made the pace. Trek-Segafredo and Circus-Wanty Gobert went on the attack once again, sending Gianluca Brambilla and Aimé De Gendt off the front.
De Gendt sat on before launching on his own with 7km to go, though his effort was in vain as the superstars began to fire behind. Reigning champion Alaphilippe made his move, with only van Aert able to follow.
The Frenchman crossed the top of the Poggio alone, with Van Aert trailing before making the catch on the descent. Ten seconds back, Mohorič was among the riders leading the charge at the head of a strung-out chasing pack.
In the end, nobody was able to catch the lead duo, with no major attacks coming from behind. Alaphilippe and Van Aert were able to contest the final between them. Despite leading from the front, Van Aert held on to take the win, his second in three races since the restart, and his first Monument victory.
Top 10 Results
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Wout Van Aert (Bel) Jumbo - Visma||7:16:09|
|2||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck - QuickStep|
|3||Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb||0:00:02|
|4||Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora - Hansgrohe|
|5||Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) NTT Pro Cycling Team|
|6||Dion Smith (NZl) Mitchelton - Scott|
|7||Alex Aranburu Deba (Spa) Astana Pro Team|
|8||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC Team|
|9||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|10||Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain - Mclaren|
Resources: Cycling News | D Ostanek | Getty