Race Report: The First Monument of the ‘new’ season gave us the excitement we had been waiting for when Milano-Sanremo hit the climb of the Cipressa and the peloton exploded. But it was the Poggio that put last year’s winner, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) and Strade Bianche victor, Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) out front to fight for victory.
The 111th edition of Milan-San Remo had some big changes; mid summer on the calendar, the cancellation of the Turchino, the three Capi and a long passage along the Ligurian coast, but the ending remained unchanged. La Classicissima finished with the traditional final over the Cipressa and the Poggio… and what a final it was.
Many are glad to see the start flag
After leaving Milan, the race crosses the Lomellina on flat, wide and straight roads. After Alessandria, the race crosses the Monferrato and then passes through the Langhe before facing the first long challenge of the day, the ascent of Niella Belbo. The slopes are gentle, but there are, especially in the initial part of the climb, steep sections and the ascent is almost 20km long (average gradient of 3%). After Ceva begins the long and easy ascent to Colle di Nava (3.9km and a gradient of 3% in the final part of the climb), followed by the fast dive on Pieve di Teco, then on to reach Imperia. The ascent and descent are both on wide roads while the crossing of Langhe and Monferrato has narrow sections. In Imperia the race returns to the classic route to tackle the Cipressa (first climbed in 1982) from San Lorenzo al Mare and shortly afterwards, the Poggio di Sanremo (first climbed in 1961).
Following the Cipressa (5.6km with an average gradient of 4.1%) is a very fast and challenging descent which takes riders back to the SS 1 Aurelia. Nine kilometres from the finish, the ascent of Poggio di Sanremo begins; 3.7km long with an average gradient of less than 4% and a maximum of 8% in the segment shortly before the crest of the climb. The road is slightly narrower, with four hairpin turns in the first 2km. The descent is extremely technical, on asphalt roads, narrow at points and with a succession of hairpins, twists and turns as far as the junctions with the SS 1 Aurelia. The final part of the descent enters urban Sanremo. The last bend, leading into the home straight, is 750m from the finish line.
The route to Sanremo in 2020
After ten minutes of racing, Radio Corsa gave the names of the early break. The leading group was almost completely Italian with Mattia Bais, Manuele Boaro, Alessandro Tonelli, Damiano Cima, Fabio Mazzucco and Marco Fverslagi and the Spaniard Héctor Carretero. The seven managed to take a maximum lead of about six minutes.
A hot day in northern Italy
The race covered almost 44 kilometres in the first hour of racing. It soon became clear that Caleb Ewan and Philippe Gilbert were racing with ambitions, as Lotto Soudal settled at the head of the peloton to do the work. Jumbo-Visma (for Strade Bianche winner Wout van Aert) and Groupama-FDJ (for Arnaud Démare) also sacrificed a man on the front of the peloton.
The speed wasn’t too high, 42kph average in the first two hours, but the peloton was in a long line
On the climb to Niella Belbo, a new climb on the course after scrapping the coastal stretch, the break’s lead continued to fluctuate around six minutes. The race went a bit further towards the Cipressa and the Poggio, but with 87 kilometres to go the peloton was hit by a crash. The best known and main victim was Matteo Trentin, one of the possible favourites. The unfortunate CCC rider eventually had to go to hospital. Without Trentin, the other riders continued towards the Colle di Nava. The favourites decided to keep their powder dry on this climb, knowing that hard times were yet to come. The pace was quite high, as the lead of the escapees had dropped to 1 minute. A regrouping took place before the Cipressa.
305 kilometres of (mostly) new roads
In the run-up to the penultimate climb, the nervousness in the peloton increased as the favourites all wanted to start in a good position on the Cipressa. Julian Alaphilippe, the defending champion was also staying to the front, but first had to deal with a puncture. The Frenchman was brought back to the peloton in time by the hard working Declerqc. Danny van Poppel saw his chances disappear as he crash out.
Thirsty work for Lawrence Naesen
On the Cipressa we saw attacks by Loïc Vliegen and Jacopo Mosca, while Caleb Ewan went out the back. Second in 2018 and one of the big favourites for the victory had a bad day and couldn’t hang on up the Cipressa. Fernando Gaviria was soon to join him. At the very front, Vliegen and Mosca were still leading.
The ‘tractor’ Tim Declercq working hard as always
The lead of the Belgian and Italian was limited to 10 seconds, and they were swallowed up not long after. On the descent of the Cipressa, Daniel Oss took some risks and managed to take a lead of 15 seconds on a thinned peloton. The long-haired Italian was not able to reach the foot of the Poggio first and so a fairly large group, with Van der Poel and Van Aert, started the last climb.
Through the vineyards
Gianluca Brambilla increased the pace when they hit the Poggio, but the Italian couldn’t do much damage, as Sam Bennett struggled at the back. At 6.5 kilometres from the line, defending champion Alaphilippe decided to put in his move which was even too strong for Van Aert who, along with everyone else, couldn’t hold the Frenchman’s wheel.
The action got hot on the coast
Alaphilippe was the first to start the descent of the Poggio, but Van Aert was certainly not giving up his chance of the victory. The Belgian was only 3 seconds later and managed to catch Alaphilippe on the descent. Alaphilippe and Van Aert had a nice lead on a chasing group with Van der Poel, who was unable to follow the two leaders on the Poggio, but the race was still wide open.
Stunning attack from Alaphilippe on the Poggio
Alaphilippe and Van Aert worked hard together towards the finish, as the lead (about 8 seconds) was very small. For a moment; Van der Poel and co. looked like they might still connect, especially since Van Aert and Alaphilippe were in the last hundreds metres and looking at each other. The pursuers were just too late and so the Belgian and Frenchman were allowed to sprint for the prestigious victory. Van Aert turned out to be the fastest after an exciting sprint.
It was a game of poker at the end
For the Belgian it is his second big win since the corona break, after Strade Bianche last week. Alaphilippe finished second, Michael Matthews won the sprint from the chase group. Van der Poel failed to finish in the top ten. Van Aert is the first Belgian to win Milan-San Remo since Andrei Tchmil, who was the victor in 1999 after he changed nationality to become a Belgian.
Two wins in two weeks
2020 Milano-Sanremo winner, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma): “It’s unbelievable to win Milano-Sanremo after Strade Bianche. On the Poggio, I was at the limit. Alaphilippe attacked earlier than I expected and I couldn’t hold his wheel so I had to go and chase him down. He played it very well. Luckily I just had enough power left to beat him on the line. It’s a beautiful restart of the season for me.”
# Stay PEZ for more from Milano-Sanremo in EUROTRASH Monday. #
2020 Milano-Sanremo Result:
1. Wout van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma in 7:16:09
2. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step
3. Michael Matthews (Aus) Sunweb at 0:02
4. Peter Sagan (Slo) BORA – hansgrohe
5. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) NTT Pro Cycling
6. Dion Smith (NZ) Mitchelton-Scott
7. Alex Aranburu (Spa) Astana
8. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC
9. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Lotto Soudal
10. Matej Mohorič (Slov) Bahrain-McLaren
11. Andrea Vendrame (Ita) AG2R-La Mondiale
12. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates
13. Mathieu Van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix
14. Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R-La Mondiale
15. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Ineos
16. Davide Formolo (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
17. Matteo Jorgenson (USA) Movistar
18. Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Pro Cycling
19. Zdeněk Štybar (Cze) Deceuninck – Quick-Step
20. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Sunweb
21. Aime De Gendt (Bel) Circus-Wanty Gobert
22. Gorka Izagirre Insausti (Spa) Astana
23. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
24. Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
25. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain-McLaren
26. Robert Stannard (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott at 0:08
27. Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) Alpecin-Fenix at 0:13
28. Lorenzo Rota (Ita) Vini Zabu KTM
29. Anthony Turgis (Fra) Total Direct Energie at 0:14
30. Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek – Segafredo.