Rating Milano-Sanremo: Still bubbly or has it lost its sparkle?

Boring or breathtaking? No race provokes wider reactions than Milano-Sanremo. Here's our rating of the 2021 edition.

Photo: Tim De Waele/Getty Images

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Milano-Sanremo is packed with attributes. It’s a monument, the so-called “sprinter’s classic,” and one of cycling’s most prestigious one-day races.

Yet few races seem to provoke more debate than Italy’s “classicissima.” Is it a relic, living off its monument reputation? Or does it remain one of cycling’s most unpredictable and thrilling races?

The 2021 edition, won by a Cancellara-like attack Saturday by Jasper Stuyven, likely won’t do much to quell the opposing camps. A brisk tailwind shuttled the bunch down the Ligurian coast, keeping the pace high and tamping down any would-be attacks over the Cipressa. After a big group roared up the Poggio, the much-hyped duel between Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel was a dud, and the numbers snuffed out the traditional moves over the top.

Race report: Jasper Stuyven surprises favorites with late-race attack

Only Stuyven, who anticipated the favorites with an attack at about 2km to go, managed to fend off what would have been the first reduced bunch sprint since 2016.

Dud or dynamo? Here’s our rating of Milano-Sanremo vintage 2021:

Andrew Hood — As good as it gets

It’s easy to hate on Milano-Sanremo these days. Boring? Yep, or at least the opening six-hour-long preamble certainly is. Too long? At 299km, it’s the longest race of the season. Lack of race dynamics? Check, no race follows the traditional script more closely than “La Classicissima.”

Predictable? Well, that’s where Milano-Sanremo always stands apart.

There isn’t another race on the calendar where so numerous and such diverse style of riders can line up with hopes of winning. The race is predictable in that it always comes down to a tug-of-war between the Poggio attacks and a reduced bunch sprint.

Also read: Milano-Sanremo — snoozer or sizzler?

What is wholly unpredictable is picking who might win. Not even Jasper Stuyven really expected himself to win, and yet a little dash of derring-do, and his all-in bet delivered the biggest jackpot of his racing career. On the other side, perennial favorite Peter Sagan has never won, and he’s finished fourth a record five times in a race he may never win despite it fitting his style of racing perfectly.

Are there other races that are more exciting and dynamic? Of course. Changing the route to “spice it up” would be sacrilege.

The distance, prestige, the Italian spring, and traditional Cipressa-Poggio-Via Roma treble never fails to deliver one of the most exacting race finales in the sport. It might be a long wait each afternoon, but I’m a huge fan of just the way it is, and this year’s vintage fit right into the familiar, comfortable and very satisfying San Remo narrative.


Jim Cotton — Meh, the 2021 vintage lost its fizz

I was pumped for “La Primavera” on Saturday. The espressi were lined up, the bag of biscotti ready. I tuned in and out for some six hours, half paying attention.

As the peloton charged into the Cipressa, I cranked my attention to full. I sat like a kid at Christmas day, waiting for Mathieu van der Poel’s long-range move. Jumbo-Visma cranked the pace so high it didn’t happen.

The surge of adrenaline subsided before kicking in again 10 minutes later as the bunch hit the Poggio. This was it.

Sure enough, the racing finally happened after some 290km of pedalling. But Julian Alaphilippe’s attack felt like he was going through the motions, van Aert’s counter was one of obligation rather than necessity.

Also read: Julian Alaphilippe — ‘I gave my best, made my move on the Poggio, but it didn’t work’

Jasper Stuyven’s late dash rescued the race for me. All that went before it somehow lacked the fizz. There had been so much hype around the “Mathieu van der Wout” show that when it didn’t happen I felt a bit flat. Seeing Stuyven motor up the Via Roma to fend off the chasers was a thrilling final five minutes that perfectly sets up the cobbles season to come. However, it felt like the race never really got started.

The ingredients were there, but the magic formula was missing this year. Milano-Sanremo is a great race, but the 2021 edition was a glass of fine Prosecco that had been left out too long and gone flat.

Fred Dreier — Losing its luster

I realize this is going to be an unpopular take, so prepare yourself to feel a mixture of rage, annoyance, and guilt. OK, are you ready? Here goes: I’m afraid that Milano-Sanremo has lost much of its luster, and La Primavera is no longer the most exciting and fun early season race on the calendar. Hell — it’s no longer the most exciting early season race in Italy!

Milano-Sanremo has been upstaged by a younger, more enticing, and more enticing star that has breathed new life into the early bloc of classics racing: Strade Bianche. A few weeks ago I argued that Strade Bianche should not be included alongside Milano-Sanremo as a monument of cycling. I stand by that argument, yet I fully acknowledge that Strade Bianche is a much better race than Milano-Sanremo, and I think that its soaring popularity has taken much of the shine off of La Primavera.

Also read: Strade Bianche isn’t a monument, and that’s OK

You can watch hours of Strade Bianche and still be engaged and interested; with Milano-Sanremo you need only to tune into the final 20 minutes. Strade Bianche never ends in a sprint — at Milano-Sanremo the specter of a bunch kick always looms over those final few kilometers.

And, if we’re honest, the attacks and regroupings and tactical decisions at Strade Bianche are just more dynamic than what we see at Milano-Sanremo, where decades of tactical analysis over the same course has led to the potential for only a few different outcomes. I will always love Milano-Sanremo, but my affection for Strade Bianche has blown past it like Vincenzo Nibali on the Poggio.

An American in France

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