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Frenchman Arnaud Démare (FDJ) won the season’s first of five Monuments, Milan-San Remo, in a bunch sprint ahead of Ben Swift (Team Sky) and Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Soudal).
The 2011 under-23 world champion, Démare, 24, emerged as the winner of a race marred by crashes, including one that had taken down several pre-race favorites, including Démare, at the bottom of the Cipressa with 30km to go.
Another crash occurred in the final 300 metres when young Colombian Fernando Gaviria clipped his front wheel on the rear wheel of Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), disrupting the sprint for Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo).
It was a dramatic finale that saw an unexpected winner, while Gaviria was left in tears, wondering what might have been, and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) was left banging his fist on his handlebar when his chain appeared to jump gears in the final 150 meters.
— inCycle (@inCycleTV) March 19, 2016
Cancellara was next to attack, followed by Edvald Boasson Hagen, but as the bunch came into the final kilometer, it was clear the race would be won from a bunch sprint.
The biggest win of Démare’s career, it marked the first by a Frenchman since Laurent Jalabert in 1995, and the first by a Frenchman in any Monument since Jalabert at Lombardia in 1997.
“This is incredible,” Démare said. “There are days like this one in which everything works despite the occasional hiccup, like crashing at the bottom of the Cipressa. I made it across at the bottom of the Poggio and the entire way I felt fantastic. I became the under-23 world champion in similar conditions after crashing. I’m delighted to win Milan-San Remo. This is a big one and has been running for over a century. It’s extraordinary. I’m extremely happy.”
A landslide, a change in plans
The peloton of 199 riders rolled out from Milan under sunny skies. Conditions were cool at the start — 11°C (52°F) — but much warmer than what races had to contend with at Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice, which both saw stages canceled due to extreme weather.
With 200km remaining, the 11 riders in the breakaway held a gap of 7:30.
The composition of the breakaway: Roger Kluge (IAM Cycling), Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL-Jumbo), Matteo Bono (Lampre-Merida), Gediminas Bagdonas (Ag2r La Mondiale), Marco Coledan (Trek Segafredo), Andrea Peron (Novo Nordisk), Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18), Mirco Maestri (Bardiani CSF), Serghei Tvetcov (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Samuele Conti (Southeast-Venezuela), and Adrian Kurek (CCC-Sprandi-Polkowice).
Behind, riders from Dimension Data, Cofidis, Etixx-QuickStep, Tinkoff, and Orica-GreenEdge each put a man on the front of the peloton.
A landslide on the course, between Genova Voltri and Arenzano, caused a change in in the route. At the bottom of the Turchino descent, the biggest climb of the race, the route deviated onto the A10 highway, adding an additional 4km to the route, to a total of 295km. Reports came in that there were at least two people, unaffiliated with the race, who were injured by the rockfall.
With 100km remaining, the gap was down to five minutes. Twenty kilometres later, the gap had come down another minute, at an average speed of 41.494 km/h.
‘Tre Capi’ followed by Cipressa and Poggio
The real action in Milan-San Remo begins in the final 55km, as the route delivers the classic sequence of the “Tre Capi” — Capo Mele, Capo Cervo, Capo Berta — followed by the decisive climbs of the Cipressa and Poggio di Sanremo.
The Cipressa, added to the race in 1982, is just over 5.6km long with a gradient of 4.1%. The descent leading back down to the SS 1 Aurelia road is highly technical. The ascent of the Poggio di Sanremo, which was added to the race in 1960, starts 9km before the finish line.The climb is 3.7km long with an average gradient of less than 4% and a maximum of 8%. It’s a narrow climb, with four hairpin turns in the first 2km.
The descent is extremely technical, with a succession of hairpin turns. The final part of the descent enters San Remo; the final 2km are on long, straight urban roads. At 850m from the finish line there is a left-hand bend on a roundabout. The final turn, leading into the home straight, is 750m from the finish line.
With 64km to go, the gap between the 11-man breakaway and the peloton had come down to 3:21.
At 60km to go, a touch of wheels in the main peloton caused several riders to crash, including Julien Vermotte (Etixx-QuickStep) and Charles Planet (Novo Nordisk), however all were able to continue.
At 55km to go, as the race reached the Capo Mele, there was another crash in the peloton as a rider clipped the side mirror of a car parked on the route, causing a pileup. Worst off was Lampre-Merida’s Federico Zurlo, who would abandon. Jan Bakelandts (AG2r La Mondiale) was also caught up in the crash, but was able to continue.
With 40km to go, the gap to the 11-rider breakaway had come down to 1:20, with BMC Racing, Tinkoff, and Lotto-Soudal driving the chase over the third of the Tre Capi, Capo Berta.
A crash for Katusha’s March Haller was a blow for Kristoff, though Haller was able to continue. Another crash, soon after, again saw Vermotte on the deck, and this time he would not continue.
Yet another crash, this time at the front of the peloton with 30km remaining, took down several big names, including Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky), Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge), Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18), Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff), Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data), and Démare (FDJ).
“I thought it was game over,” Démare said. “From the team car, I was told that Michael Matthews’ group was behind, but that I shouldn’t worry. William Bonnet was along. I had great legs on the Cipressa and successively I found my teammates, Matthieu Ladagnous, Kevin Reza, and Ignatas Konovalovas, who put me in a good spot at the foot of the Poggio. I thought I had lost a lot of energy but I climbed the Poggio very well despite my efforts.”
Next up was the righthand turn on to the slopes of the Cipressa. Six riders remained in the breakaway as Astana and Katusha drove the chase.
At 25km to go, midway up the Cipressa, the last remnants of the breakaway were absorbed. The pace was such that former winner Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) was dropped. Following the crash, many of the race’s big favorites were fairly planted at the front, including Nibali, Sagan, Boasson Hagen, Cancellara, and Gaviria.
Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) attacked on the Cipressa, drawing out Ian Stannard (Sky). With 22km to go, the pair went over the top with an 11-second lead. Behind, Démare and Kennaugh clawed their way back into the peloton over the Cipressa while Lotto-Soudal and Ettix drove the chase on the descent.
On the flat section between the Cipressa and the Poggio, three riders bridged across to Visconti and Stannard — Daniel Oss (BMC Racing), Matteo Montaguti (AG2R La Mondiale), and Fabio Sabatini (Etixx-QuickStep) — pushing an 18-second lead over the peloton led by Katusha.
That group was caught at 11km to go, and the race was wide open as it approached the Poggio. Roman Kreuziger was at the head of the peloton, for Tinkoff, while Matthews rode his way back on, but was positioned at the back of the bunch.
Luke Rowe (Sky) led onto the Poggio, with his teammates Swift and Kwiatkowski also there.
Andrea Fedi (Southeast-Venezuela) was the first to attack on the Poggio, at 7km to go. Next was Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), followed by Kwiatkowski.
The Polish rider opened a significant margin, while behind, Oscar Gatto (Tinkoff) chased, followed closely by Cancellara, Sagan, and Van Avermaet.
As they crested the Poggio and took the lefthand bend onto the descent, Nibali took up the case. Just 5km remained.
Nibali drove the chase on the descent, with Cancellara, Sagan, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Boasson Hagen in tow.
With 2.5km to go, Kwiatkowski still held a five-second gap over Nibali, who was followed closely by Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep).
Cancellara attacked at 1.5km to go, with Trentin chasing, and once that move was negated, it was Boasson Hagen who went on the offensive, with Van Avermaet on his wheel.
When the bunch made the final left-hand turn inside the final kilometer, it was clear that a sprint was inevitable. Gaviria, Bouhanni, Sagan, Cancellara, Démare, and Swift were all well placed, but when Gaviria rubbed wheels with Van Avermaet, his chances were over, along with those of Sagan and Cancellara.
For the 21-year-old Gaviria, it was the toughest day of his young career, one in which he came very close to a huge result, but was eventually left in tears.
“I am very sad for what happened,” Gaviria said. “It was my fault, as I was in a perfect position, but then I lost my focus for two seconds, because I began thinking on how to sprint, and touched Van Avermaet’s wheel. This was enough to throw away all the hard work of the team. I have mixed feelings: I missed an important opportunity, but on the other hand I am happy that I could cope with a 300km long race and felt good throughout the day. It’s not the crash that hurts, but the outcome, especially as I was thinking of this race since January.”
Shortly thereafter, skipping gears ended Bouhanni’s sprint, while Démare burst across the line ahead of Swift and Roelandts.
“I launched my sprint from far out as usual,” Démare said. “I had lost track of how the race unfolded so I wasn’t too sure if all the attackers had been caught, but the cars ahead of the race helped me to understand that I was sprinting for the win. I thought it would have taken me more experience to win Milan-San Remo, one of the five classics that all cyclists dream of winning.”
DÉMARE Arnaud DÉMARE Arnaud FDJ
SWIFT Ben SWIFT Ben Team Sky
ROELANDTS Jürgen ROELANDTS Jürgen Lotto Soudal