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Holding onto a gap created on the Poggio, Wout van Aert won a two-up sprint with Julian Alaphilippe to take his first monument victory, just a week after winning Strade Bianche.
“I can’t believe it, two victories in a row, I don’t have words,” van Aert said. “It’s a stupid answer, everyone says it when you win a Monument, but to start the second part of the season like this, it’s crazy.”
A chaotic, attack-filled finale, uncontrolled by any of the smaller, six-man teams, set up a perfect scenario for the pair of attacking riders to make their move.
Van Aert chased Alaphilippe down on the backside of the Poggio and the duo held onto a slim lead through the final flat 2 kilometers into San Remo.
Michael Matthews (Sunweb) led a severely reduced group across the line for third.
How it happened
A modified race route, forced inland by increased tourism traffic on the coast, nonetheless resulted in a classic Milan-San Remo. The final 30km, including the Cipressa and Poggio, remained unchanged, and it was here, as usual, where the race was defined.
The drop to six-rider teams inspired early drama. A vicious leadout into the Cipressa at 27km to go set off Loic Vliegen (Circus-Wanty Gobert), coming off a top-20 at Strade Bianche, and Jacopo Mosca (Trek-Segafredo).
Trek’s efforts were relentless. The tactic was clear: with Nibali as their leader, the sprinters had to be dropped. After Mosca, up for the team was Giulio Ciccone, winner of the climber’s jersey at the Giro, who made a move to bridge up to his teammate Mosca and Wanty’s Vliegen.
The fierce pace sent Caleb Ewan, second in 2018, off the back halfway up the Cipressa. Fernando Gaviria was next to go.
Mosca and Vliegen were hauled back in over the top of the Cipressa by a peloton led by Bora-Hansgrohe, working for Peter Sagan, and Jumbo-Visma, for van Aert. Gruppo compatto once again.
Bora’s Daniel Oss flew down the backside of the Cipressa, foot out and flat out at times, so quick that he opened up a gap to the peloton behind with 20km to go. At the bottom, Alexei Lutsenko (Astana) followed, again tailed by Trek’s Mosca.
One had a feeling all these moves would be for naught, mere setups for the coming crescendo.
Oss thought differently. He pulled his lead out to 15 seconds, chased by Deceuninck-Quick Step and FDJ.
The Poggio loomed.
A group of at least 50 hit the lower slopes. Ineos’ Gianni Moscon opened festivities in the first corner, followed by Zdenek Stybar. Trek’s Ciccone was next, blasting past the first two, who jumped on his wheel.
Bora was on it. The gap, never more than 30 meters, was gone.
Trek went again. Gianluca Brambilla this time, trying to keep it hard and fast for Nibali. Aime de Ghent (Circus-Wanty Gobert) followed, and then attacked.
Behind, sprinters hurt. Deceuninck’s Sam Bennett, mouth agape, shoulders rocking, hung off the back at 7.5km to go.
Then the real fireworks. With 1km to the top of the Poggio, Alaphilippe attacked, blasting through the setup riders, followed closely by van Aert. Greg van Avermaet tried to follow. Alaphilippe stamped down again, pushing himself solo, 20 meters ahead of van Aert as he crested the top and used the entirety of the road, wall-to-wall, through the first corner.
If you want to win on the Poggio, you have to take risks, and Alaphilippe did.
Wout van Aert risked more. He pulled himself back to the Frenchman through the first few downhill corners, and the duo had a few seconds with 4km to go.
“Hold on, hold on, hold on,” van Aert said he was thinking as Alaphilippe went clear. “He went quite early, and I had to close a little gap on him. I dropped again but there was nobody behind me, so I had to chase back.”
Behind, Bahrain-McLaren’s Matej Mohoric chased at the head of a select group that also included Kwiatkowski, van Avermaet, and Mathieu van der Poel.
Eight seconds was the gap with 2km to go. It was Alaphilippe and van Aert versus a group of 20 or so. The two dared not cat and mouse.
Van Aert led, 400 meters to go. Alaphilippe followed, glancing back over his shoulder. “Julian played it really good, he put me on the front,” Van Aert said.
The sprint opened at 250 meters, Alaphilippe came around, then van Aert came back. At the line, there was hardly a wheel between them.
Wout van Aert won his first monument.
Milan-San Remo Results
1. VAN AERT Wout (Jumbo-Visma) – 7:16:09
2. ALAPHILIPPE Julian (Deceuninck – Quick Step) – ST
3. MATTHEWS Michael (Team Sunweb) – 0:02
4. SAGAN Peter (BORA – hansgrohe) – ST
5. NIZZOLO Giacomo (NTT Pro Cycling) – ST
6. SMITH Dion (Mitchelton-Scott) – ST
7. ARANBURU Alex (Astana Pro Team) – ST
8. VAN AVERMAET Greg (CCC Team) – ST
9. GILBERT Philippe (Lotto Soudal) – ST
10. MOHORIC Matej (Bahrain – McLaren) – ST