WORDS: NICK CHRISTIAN | PHOTOS: PAOLO CIABERTA
Is Milan-Sanremo still a sprinter’s Classic?
Because it’s increasingly looking like an edition of La Primavera where a large bunch makes it to Via Roma is going to be the exception rather than the rule.
The sample size is still too small to say for certain, but the fact that teams have been reduced from eight to seven riders seems relevant to this question. The potential firepower at the disposal of any single fast man has been reduced by 14%.
When a few riders from a couple of teams have spent all day on the front of the bunch – first keeping the break on a limited leash, and then reeling it in before business time – that doesn’t leave many to control the pace, keep the group together on the final climbs and protect their designated hitter.
Which is not to suggest that we’ll never again see a bunch(ish) finish to the race. I spoke to Sam Bennett on Wednesday, who told me that wind direction was probably more important than team size. His view that a headwind would have blunted the late escape, enabling sprinters to stay in touch, is certainly supported by the data. Said escapees could surely not have set the fastest times ever recorded without at least a little assistance.
You can’t rely on the weather, however. As things stand, any squad that puts all their eggs in that particular basket exposes themselves to the risk of being caught out. Consider the teams that had riders in the top ten, then look at those that didn’t.
The furious furrow Stybar was ploughing up the Poggio told us that Alaphilippe was Deceuninck-Quick Step’s plan A, with Elia Viviani the spare. The Italian champion might begrudge his team-mate for firing the bullet that killed his chance of victory but, had it not been him, it would surely have been one of the others.
Bora Hansgrohe had Sagan for the jump, Bennett back in the group; Jumbo Visma spread their bets between Wout van Aert and Dylan Groenewegen. Bahrain-Merida actually had three cards at their disposal, suggesting a – somewhat justified – lack of confidence in their own sprinter, Sonny Colbrelli.
Groupama-FDJ, Lotto Soudal and UAE Team Emirates were the three WorldTour teams most invested in the sprint. None were present in significant enough numbers to prevent such a move from succeeding. Not one of them, in the end, had a man finish within 25 seconds of the winner.
Of course, as he demonstrated for the umpteenth time in 2019, the star of the season is no slouch when it comes to sprinting. Julian Alaphilippe – the best of both worlds.
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