What's Cool In Road Cycling

MSR’13: Ciolek Wins Big!

Race Report: Gerald Ciolek from the African MTN-Qhubeka team overcame the elements, the odds and a star studded final front group to take the biggest success of his career in an excitement packed Primavera.



We didn’t get it quite right; ‘We don’t see him winning, but he knows how much a podium would boost his and the team’s stock’ is what we said about MTN Qhubeka’s Gerald Ciolek.

But we’re glad to be proved wrong, the ‘back from the dead’ German was too fast for an elite group of six at the death of a snow blighted Milan-Sanremo late on a grey Ligurian Sunday afternoon beating hot pre-race favourite Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and eternal Primavera podium finisher, Fabian Cancellara (Radio Shack). The final act of the opera that is the Classicissima begins when the performers’ front wheels bump on to the bottom of the Poggio climb on the outskirts of San Remo.

British Champion Ian Stannard (Sky), former French Champion Sylvain Chavanel (QuickStep) and Russian Champion Eduard Vorganov (Katusha) were the three men with an advantage going in to the climb and it was Stannard’s savage efforts which kept him and Chava clear – Vorganov succumbing to the ferocious pace and slipping back to the chasers where Sagan and Cancellara marked each other. Het Nieuwsblad winner, Luca Paolini (Katusha) rode the climb well but on the decent it was a straight pursuit match with Stannard and Chava slowly being run down by Sagan, Cancellara, Paolini and Ciolek.
It was in the streets of Sanremo before the six came together with Stannard hugely impressive in trying to blast his way clear on a mega gear – hoping the Sagan and Cancellara might cancel each other out.

And indeed it looked as if they may; but eventually the reaction came and it was six together going under the red kite. Stannard led out with Sagan making his move early, knowing full well that Ciolek is quick and hoping the German would fade in a long sprint. But the man from Cologne’s timing and speed were impeccable, taking a brilliant win for the African Pro Continental squad against the might of the Pro Tour squads. Chava was fourth, Paolini fifth and Stannard a splendid sixth with a surprising Taylor Phinney (BMC) almost making it across and taking a fine seventh place.
But let’s go 300 kilometres back to the north . . .

The early morning press release read like this:Milan, 17 March 2013 – The star-studded peloton of the 104th Milano-Sanremo, organized by RCS Sport/La Gazzetta dello Sport, rolled out from the beautiful Castello Sforzesco in central Milan at 0945 local time this morning. The racing start took place in Via della Chiesa Rossa at 10.03. The peloton comprised 200 riders representing 25 teams.


The race started under light rain at 4 degrees Celsius.
Inclement conditions are forecast for the rest of the day.
Until the Passo del Turchino, rain and between 2 and 4 degrees Celsius. On the Riviera, light rain and between 6 and 7 degrees Celsius. At Sanremo: light rain and 8 degrees Celsius.


The 2013 Milano-Sanremo is 298 km long. The route is unchanged from recent editions.
The principal climbs are as follows:

Passo del Turchino (altitude: 532m) after 142.3km (155.7km to go); Le Mànie (altitude: 318m, length: 4.7km, ave. gradient 6.7%, max. 11%) after 204km (94km to go); Capo Mele (altitude: 67m) after 245.6km (52.4km to go); Capo Cerve (altitude: 61m) after 250.9km (47.1km to go); Capo Berta (altitude: 130) after 258.4km (39.6km to go).

In the closing kilometres, the two climbs that have so often proved decisive: Cipressa (altitude: 239m, length: 5.65km, ave. gradient 4.1%, max. 9%) after 275.9km (22.1km to go); Poggio di Sanremo (altitude: 160m, length: 3.7km, ave. gradient 3.7%, max. 8%) after 291.8km (6.2km to go)

So it was wet for the Milano partenza; and it was 13 kilometres before the first brave souls decided to ‘damn the torpedoes’ and headed off to get unobstructed views of the plains of northern Italy.

The best known name was Giro stage and GP Fourmies winner, Lars Bak (Lotto) chummed by Maxim Belkov (Katusha), Filippo Fortin (CSF), Pablo Lastras (Movistar) in his 15th season with the Banesto/Caisse/Movistar Dynasty, Matteo Montaguti (AG2R) and Diego Rosa (Andrini). There are few tougher men in the peloton than Bak and Lastras – there would be no missing turns in that breakaway.

With around one hour of racing under their wheels the break was 10 minutes clear – act one was playing out as it should on those long, long straights. But that nasty weather stepped in and in an unprecedented move, the race was neutralised for the climb and descent of the Turchino with 46 kilometres undertaken by team car and bus because of a heavy snow fall. It was a far from ideal situation – but better than abandoning the race.

Here’s what the race organisation said;

Due to the unfavourable weather, the Race Management – by agreement with the Commissaires Panel – has decided to neutralize the race in the stretch of route between Ovada and Arenzano (subject to further assessment of the weather conditions in Arenzano). The race time of the breakaways and their lead over the chasing group will be “frozen” in Ovada and the status quo will then be resumed in Arenzano, where the race will start again around 2:30 p.m

However, the whole character of the race was changed from the Classicissima to a 135 kilometre handicap Australian Pursuit Race – with the peloton perhaps trying to chase down 12 minutes on the six escapees. And with Bak and Lastras in there – it was quite possible they could stay away.

But the vicious Hydra which is the peloton had ‘done the math’ and the twin heads of Cannondale and Astana gorged on the time gap, rapidly taking it down to nine minutes and holding it there – double figures make the beast wary. And when the brakes went on, the gap was seven minutes.

Chaos was not the word for what ensued, with buses struggling to get to the new start point; frozen riders – including Tom Boonen – deciding enough was enough and not wanting to come back off the buses – and then came word that the La Manie climb had also had been gutted from the route.

The end result was that the race restarted with 130 K to go with the six given their 7:10 head before the dogs of war howled off in pursuit, race officials having to step into the road to prevent the peloton from stealing a few seconds. With an hour hacked out and two of the races major obstacles removed, it all said ‘sprinter’ race to us.

But first they had to get to the finale – and the break and peloton were in a real rush to get along that coast road to the showers. The six escapees had belief – men get to dream – and spelled relentlessly along the Ligurian coast. At 96 K the gap was 6:10 with Astana, Sky, Lampre Cannondale, Garmin and Argos all to the fore.

Read, Nibali, Thomas, Petacchi, Sagan, Farrar and Degenkolb – all on the PEZ favourites list, except for Ale Jet. One of our top ten who wouldn’t win is Matt Goss – an early crash meant he didn’t leave the bus. Ten kilometres later the gap was one minute less – on schedule for the break being caught on the Cipressa and the inevitable counter attacks.

At 75 K it was 4:32 with a sodden Cav coming back through the cars and the break down to five, with Fortin gone. Another 10 K and the gap only came down 45 seconds – but that could just have been the chasers re-computing. There’s no point in bringing the break too early, the counter attacks will go immediately.

Alassio with just under 60 K to go and Sagan was making no secret of his ambitions – with five Cannondales on the front; but Nibali living dangerously right at the back. The break hit the first of the Capi. The Capo Mele isn’t a killer climb; you scarcely notice it in a car but for cold wet, dead legs – simply horrible.

The gap tumbled to inside three minutes with 50 to go and then it was the Capo Cervo a few kilometres later, again not a killer but sore, sore in the freezing rain. At the back, Nibali stripped off – pointing to an attack on the Cipressa to us. In fact, he was on the brink of climbing off!

Capo Berta, the last of the Capi – more of a climb than the other two and the pain was cranked up as Team Sky came up. Chava and Cav were still there but it was down to three at the front, Rosa, Belkov and Bak – with the gap on the one minute. But with everyone playing it cool on the descent.
Sky drove into the Cipressa with the break caught right on cue and word coming in that the peloton had split on Berta.

Kiryienka, Stannard, Eisel were all doing their ‘Skymaton’ thing; and in a trice it was over for their team mate and race favourite Geraint Thomas – as he and Garmin’s Tyler Farrar were left sitting on the cold wet tar just metres from the bottom of the Cipressa.

A small group went clear with Chava and Bouet (AG2R) but it was fruitless, it’s so hard to make it stick on this climb – and to complete Sky’s misery, Boasson Hagen popped. The man doing the damage was Lampre chrono man Adriano Malori – Chava, Gaparotto (Astana) and Stannard were there in a group of 30/35 men as they bested the Cipressa.

The drop off the Cipressa comes with around 20 K to go and it was world champion Gilbert (BMC) on the offensive – but white leg warmers?

Chava was first across to Gilbert and he countered immediately with Vorganov and a strong, strong Stannard – they got the gap, 26 seconds but the lead group saw the danger – then stalled and the three were clear as the bumped right on to the hallowed ground of the Poggio . . .

It may have been an hour short of rubber on road, but nonetheless, another page in the Primavera legend has been written large.

The 2013 Primavera champion complete with lipstick marks and all, Gerald Ciolek.

Milan Sanremo 2013 Results:
1 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) MTN – Qhubeka 5:37:20
2 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale
3 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack Leopard
4 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma Quick Step
5 Luca Paolini (Ita) Team Katusha
6 Ian Stannard (GBr) Sky Pro Cycling
7 Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing
8 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha 0:00:14
9 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma Quick Step
10 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Sky Pro Cycling

Like PEZ? Why not subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive updates and reminders on what's cool in road cycling?
Leave A Reply