Lightning fast: The gloriously untapped potential of Jonathan Milan
Stage 17 saw Milan take his fourth second place in this year’s Giro; just how good could the Italian sprinter be with a dialled lead out train?
The Italian newspapers have started referring to him as ‘Johnny Power’ during this year’s Giro d’Italia, some call him the ‘Giant of Buja’ and others the ‘Bull of Buja.’ Either way, Jonathan Milan has been steadily making a name for himself as one of the most exciting sprint prospects in the WorldTour peloton. It’s true that all of the aforementioned nicknames suit Milan fiendishly well. When he unleashes his sprint, his speed and power is breathtakingly fast; his tall height sets him apart from the swathe of aerodynamic sprinters chomping at their stems around him and there’s something about that late, frantic (but undeniably impressive) gallop for the line that is easily comparable to the image of a strong bull charging at a matador.
Milan’s last minute dash for the finish line, where he seems to appear out of nowhere, has become somewhat of a trademark for the Bahrain-Victorious rider during this Giro. He stole headlines from stage 11 winner, Pascal Ackermann, when he came from over ten riders back in the bunch to almost pip the German to the line, missing the victory by just a tyre width. Milan’s ability to make up so much ground in what seems like just a few forceful pedal strokes causes intrigue – to be able to storm past other world class sprinters as they are all pedalling full throttle to the line isn’t something that should really be possible, but Milan keeps doing it.
The final sprint on stage 17 of the 2023 Giro d'Italia (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
The same thing happened on stage 17, the penultimate opportunity in this race for the sprinters as the Giro heads towards its finale on the streets of Rome. As the peloton skirted through the twists and turns of the technical finish, Milan found himself in 12th position with just 600 metres of the stage remaining, so far back that it looked like he’d fluffed it. It seemed as if there was no way he could make up that much ground, especially as he popped out into the wind without a wheel to follow. But somehow, with that peerless speed, Milan missed the win by just centimetres again at the finish, despite being separated from his rivals by almost 50 metres just a few seconds before.
A clear contrast can be drawn between Milan’s late dash approach in stages 11 and 17 and his sprint on stage two of this year’s Giro – the only one in which he has taken victory in this race so far. During that frantic finish, Milan rounded the final corner in sixth position, sitting behind the train of Alpecin-Deceunick. As the road opened up wide and the bunch spread out from barrier to barrier in the closing 200 metres, Milan picked his moment to come out of Alpecin’s slipstream perfectly, finding a gap in the bunch to squeeze through and utilise all that horsepower, blocked from the wind on either side by his rivals. He took the win convincingly in his Grand Tour debut.
In that stage, Milan used the Alpecin-Deceuninck lead out train as if it were his own, sitting behind the riders in blue to help him navigate through the messy finish and pick his time to strike for glory. This throws up the question: how good could Milan be if he had a proper lead out train of his own?
Jonathan Milan after winning stage two of the Giro d'Italia 2023 (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
It’s fair to say that Bahrain-Victorious has not had the organisation in this race to challenge the likes of Alpecin-Deceunick in the run up to the finish line during the sprint stages. Milan’s emotion and surprise when he won stage two perhaps gives us an indication that neither he, nor his team, expected him to compete in the bunch sprints like he has. If they had known he was going to be so close to victory, they might have placed more focus on building a team around him to ensure he is positioned competitively during the bunch sprints. Milan will come away from this Giro with at least one stage win – perhaps two depending on what happens during the final stage in Rome – but there is every chance he could have had more with a bit more guidance in the finales of sprint stages.
Milan has proven during this Giro d’Italia that he is more than worthy to have an entire team built around him to help him chase stage wins. His pedigree on the track has already proven he has incredible talent – Milan won gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with the Italian team in the team pursuit – but this Giro has been a coming of age for him on the road. One of the key takeaways from the race is the arrival of Milan as one of the fastest sprinters in the world, with incredible potential to win more and more. Johnny Power certainly has the strength and speed to do it, here’s hoping he can get the team to help him get there.
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix