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SANREMO, Italy (VN) — Peter Sagan found all the elements working against him on Sunday in Milano-Sanremo and could not meet the expectations. But the 23-year-old Cannondale rider still put on quite a show.
“It was a hard day,” he said, “but in the end, it was beautiful.”
Sagan sat shaking after an eight-hour day battling the elements. The race started in Milan under rain, continued through snowstorms in Pavia and ground to a stop at the base of the first climb.
Snow rendered the Passo Turchino impossible to ride and forced the organizer to take action. Team buses collected the riders for a 50km journey to fresh start along the Italian Riviera.
The snow was gone. So, too, was Le Mànie (just too dangerous, said the organizer). But it continued to rain.
“I never raced a day like this. I think other riders never faced a day like this either,” Sagan said. “For sure, the only thing I was thinking about sitting on the bus was doing those last two climbs well.”
Rivals out for Sagan’s scalp
Sagan has won stages in almost every race he has participated in since turning professional. At the Tour de France last year, he took home three stage wins and the green jersey. Last week, in similar nasty weather, he won two stages of Tirreno-Adriatico.
The elements continued to work against him in Milano-Sanremo. And thanks to his exploits and his stated desire to win his first big classic, rivals marked the young Slovak.
“It was maybe even harder for Sagan. He was the big favorite and had the responsibility on his shoulders,” said race winner Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka) in a press conference.
“I took advantage of his situation, had the fastest legs and was able to beat him.”
Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) rode free over the top of the Cipressa. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Ian Stannard (Sky) followed. A gap started to open, and all eyes looked towards Sagan.
The big green machine
Team Cannondale came into the day knowing all eyes would be on Sagan. The green machine worked from the beginning at Castello Sforzesco until the Poggio.
When news came through race radio that the organizer would cut the Turchino, Cannondale took the race in hand to reduce the gap to the escapees. Had they restarted the race with the front six riders still at 12 minutes Sagan would have never even had a chance to place second.
Once the race restarted on the Riviera, Cannondale pulled again. Team Sky took over, but Damiano Caruso and Moreno Moser rested, waiting to work again.
Caruso marked an escape on the Cipressa. Moser, when Stannard and Chavanel’s move bordered on dangerous, began pulling on the Poggio.
“I wasn’t afraid, but they were some strong riders in front and we had to keep an eye on them to keep them at a safe distance,” Sagan said.
“No other riders were pulling, so Moreno did well. We pulled, we started attacking at the top, we were right behind on the descent and then we re-entered.”
The final run
Sagan had to work to keep control. Luca Paolini (Katusha) attacked, and he chased with Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) and Ciolek in tow. Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) attacked, and he chased with Ciolek behind.
Sagan led on the descent of the Poggio at a safe distance behind the front duo. Over the final 2.9km after the Poggio, he attacked once, but Cancellara marked him.
“I under-evaluated [Ciolek] a little bit,” Sagan said. “I watched Cancellara, who was trying to break free, and maybe I did too much work than [Ciolek] did. He stayed on my wheel, sprinted, and was able to beat me.”
Afterward, Sagan tried to warm up. Thoughts of the big classics ahead helped him forget about what had happened. He races the Ronde Van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and Amstel Gold Race in the coming weeks.
“I’m getting better, it’s true, but to throw away a Sanremo like that … I’m a little upset,” he said.
Upset, yes. But he put on a good show and marked himself as even a greater threat for the upcoming classics.