With Mark Cavendish lagging behind on the Poggio after dropping his chain on the Cipressa and having to chase back on, Etixx-QuickStep's hopes for a Milan-San Remo victory fell on the shoulders of Zdenek Stybar and World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski.
But those hopes, too, were dashed when a crash on the decsent off the Poggio took both riders out of contention.
“Let's hope tomorrow morning when I wake up from bed I won't feel anything,” Kwiatkowski said after the nearly seven-hour race. “But as of now I am feeling OK and I have to be happy about that. Bad luck today, especially that both of us were on the ground. The race looks different than what it could have been if that didn't happen.”
In the end, it was Giant-Alpecin sprinter John Degenkolb who took the win ahead of defending champion Alexander Kristoff (Team Katusha) and Australian Michael Matthews (Orica-Greenedge). Cavendish was the top finisher for Etixx-Quickstep, crossing the line in 46th place, 23 seconds behind the winner.
It was a disappointing result for a team that seemed to have multiple options going into the finish on Via Roma.
“We did it perfectly today, my teammates did a great job putting us into good position,” Kwiatkowski said. “For the first time at Milan-San Remo I was there on the Poggio. We felt really comfortable. It was still a big group.
“When I heard Cavendish was no longer with us, I knew we both still felt good and who knows what can happen in this kind of race,” Kwiatkowski said. “Maybe we could try and attack or make the sprint ourselves. But again, bad luck, and not much I can do in this situation other than feel happy with my condition and that the crash was not worse.”
Stybar said after the race that the Poggio crash was actually his second of the day. He crashed earlier in the race on the Capo Berta when he couldn't avoid fallen riders in front of him. But he was able to remount quickly and get back in the action, putting himself in with a chance as the peloton went up and over the Poggio
“Then I crashed for the second time on the descent of the Poggio when someone crashed in front of Kwiato and I,” said Stybar, who won Strade Bianche two weeks previously. “At that point my race was over. It's a pity because despite the first crash, the idea was to ride to the end of the downhill of the Poggio and see what we could have done.
“I had good legs today and it's a shame I couldn't get to the finish and we couldn't play all our cards, even if because arriving in Via Roma after 300km of riding the sprint is always strange and anything can happen. But OK, that's cycling. I have a few scratches on my knee and ribs, but nothing serious. So after today we just need to turn the page and see what we can do at the next races.”
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