In tandem with Sky, BMC turned up the heat on the peloton as the fireworks touched off over the Cipressa and Poggio climbs, launching multiple attacks and trying to dictate the action before the sprinters eventually came to the fore on the Via Roma and seized the day.
Giant-Alpecin's John Degenkolb won the 106th edition of the La Primavera in an gutter-to-gutter sprint, beating defending champion Alexander Kristoff (Team Katusha) and Orica-Greenedge's Michael Matthews.
“The team did a really good job,” a clearly disappointed Greg Van Avermaet said after finishing 19th. “We were in every break. I think we controlled the race a little bit together with Sky, but you see Sky and BMC are with no result.”
It became immediately clear on the Cipressa that Sky and BMC were determined to make the race as selective as possible. BMC's Van Avermaet and Silvan Dillier joined Sky's Geraint Thomas and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) for a brief rally off the front, but it quickly petered out.
As the road flattened out coming off the Cipressa, BMC's Daniel Oss and Sky's Thomas forged clear. The duo established a lead of 30 seconds with 15 kilometres remaining, but the move was brought back to 17 seconds as they began climbing the Poggio.
Thomas eventually dropped Oss before Gilbert launched an acceleration within a kilometre of the summit. The move didn't stick, but Van Avermaet broke the deadlock when he ripped clear of the chasers and set out in pursuit of Thomas. The Belgian led all the way down the descent with his teammate Gilbert lurking just behind.
“I was around position 10 in the descent, and I was thinking this is not bad,” Gilbert said. “Because after the descent you come maybe from behind and then the sprint is almost there. So it was good position, and then this crash happened. I will never know what I would have been able to do.”
Gilbert said he was behind another rider when they took a corner a little too wide.
“I had to brake a little bit at the end of this corner, and in the next moment I was on the ground,” he said. “So it was really quick. When I crashed those few seconds were like a minute because there was a lot guys crashing on me and I was under the bike and other riders.”
Meanwhile, Van Avermaet forged ahead as the road leveled out, but he relented in the final two kilometres and had little left in his tanks to contest the sprint.
“I put maybe a little bit too much energy into my attack on the Poggio and then the descent,” he admitted later. “And then I just tried to go for a good result, maybe try to get in the top 10. But it was not possible anymore because I lost too much energy on the climb and on the descent. In the last corner I lost a lot of positions, and it was not possible anymore to do a good result.
“For me it's a little bit disappointing, because all day you're working and trying to do good, and then you lose it in 100 or 200 metres. Yeah, it was a difficult San Remo.”
Nevertheless, Van Avermaet believes he had a good race with a performance that bodes well for the immediate future.
“It was the first time I could attack on the Poggio where it really matters,” he said. “So I'll take that with me. You have to take the positive things. We have a strong team also. I think we are confident in the next races. The first one is on Friday [E3 Harelbeke] and then for sure Flanders is the most important race for me.”
Gilbert, meanwhile, was still nursing his wounds from the crash.
“It's painful everywhere, you know,” he said. “The shock was pretty hard from every side – left and right – and my arms, my back is touched and my neck. I feel a bit broken for the moment, but I guess tomorrow will be maybe worse and then the next day also. But nothing is broken. There are no bones broken, and this is the most important thing for the season.”