Vincenzo Nibali may have bemoaned the lack of aggression from the non-sprinters at Milan-San Remo, but Philippe Gilbert (BMC) said that there was precious little else he could have done to break the deadlock in a leading group where the selection was made from the back rather than from the front.
Gilbert made a brief surge approaching the summit of the Poggio but he was unable to open a gap, citing a combination of the effects of the cold weather and the headwind on the climb, and victory eventually fell to Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) in a sprint from a 25-man group.
“I tried 800 metres from the summit but there was quite a bit of wind so I sat up,” Gilbert told reporters on wheeling to a halt shortly past the finish line. “We all suffered in the rain and the cold and in the end it’s hard to race in conditions like that because your muscles are tired and you lack explosiveness.
“It was an extremely hard edition again with the cold and the rain and really hard to be able to spin the legs in the final because we suffered a lot in these wintry conditions. That’s not an excuse, it’s the same for everyone, but it makes it harder.
“Still, we went up the Cipressa and Poggio very quickly today, but the sprinters were up there in spite of the tempo, so that means that they were very strong today. it wasn’t easy to make the difference.”
As the road flattened out over the crest of the Poggio, Gilbert’s brief was to track Fabian Cancellara (Trek), while Greg Van Avermaet prodded for opportunities to escape on the descent. Luca Paolini’s stint of pace-making on the front in support of his teammate Kristoff, however, meant that the race came back together in the streets of San Remo.
Approaching the final S-bend before the finishing straight on the Lungomare Italo Calvino, Gilbert looked to catch the pure sprinters off guard, but the greasy road conditions tempered his move and he finished the race in 13th place.
“In the final, I tried to place myself in front before the last bend, so I could take the sprinters by surprise but my rear wheel skidded a bit and I was scared and I lost a lot of my speed because of this and it was hard to start again,” he explained.
While Van Avermaet leads BMC’s challenge at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, Gilbert will forgo the cobbled classics this year in order to focus on the Ardennes, and his next race will be the Tour of the Basque Country (April 7-11).
“I’ll need a few days to recover from today before I start training properly again, mind, because it’s going to leave its traces,” Gilbert said, before pedalling off towards the BMC team bus.