Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) explained that he set about marshalling forces at the head of the peloton on Le Manie, when it became clear that a number of big names could be eliminated from contention for Milan-San Remo glory. The Sicilian recognised that he had a chance to radically alter the dynamic of a race that has increasingly favoured the sprinters over the past decade.
“It was a great opportunity,” Nibali told Gazzetta dello Sport. “Almost all of the sprinters plus [Michele] Scarponi were left out of the first group. [Valerio] Agnoli pulled on the Manie, and then at the top we all looked at one another. I asked [Alessandro] Ballan to put some of his men on the front because they were suffering behind, and for them the race would have become difficult.”
While the major talking point on the Cipressa was Michele Scarponi’s dramatic attack from the second group that ultimately saw him bridge a one-minute gap to the leaders, Nibali was also pondering a move of his own on La Classicissima’s penultimate climb.
“Agnoli pulled on the Cipressa as well,” he said. “I had the idea of attacking there, but I was also afraid of being left alone and wearing myself out. I thought of staking everything on the Poggio.”
On the final climb, Nibali had Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) earmarked as the danger man, and he bided his time before launching a searing acceleration of his own.
“I was waiting, there was still a break ahead,” Nibali said. “When Gilbert attacked, I followed him. When he sat up again, I went straight on.”
However, while Nibali’s powerful effort was enough to see him lead the pursuit of Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) over the summit, he couldn’t quite reel in the Belgian before the race came back together on the fast drop to San Remo.
“Halfway down the descent, I turned around and saw I had Cancellara behind me,” Nibali said. “So I took a breather to try and play my hand later.”
Nibali recognised that he would stand little chance in a straightforward sprint against the fast men in the winning eight-man move, and he opted to attack in the final kilometre.
“I was on Cancellara’s wheel,” he said. “I knew that in the sprint I would have been beaten and so I tried to go it alone. Something could have happened, it was better not to have any regrets. When I was caught, I had nothing left for the sprint.”
Nibali will now return to home roads in Sicily for a spell of training at altitude at Mount Etna, as he starts his build-up to the Giro d’Italia, which is under two months away.