Milan-San Remo is a race that crescendos like no other. Once again, the build-up was long and slow but the seven hours of calm were more than redeemed by a breathless final 15 minutes over the Poggio and onto the Via Roma, where Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) claimed a solo victory that will live long in the memory.
The Italian went clear on the Poggio, flew down the vertiginous descent, and held off the chasing peloton in the final two kilometres. It was an absolute nail-biter of a finale but Nibali was a picture of cool as he sat up and celebrated in the final 50 metres while futile sprints were unfurled behind.
Already a winner of all three Grand Tours and twice Il Lombardia champion, Nibali adds another dimension to his palmares with a third Monument victory. He also ends 12 years of hurt in becoming the first Italian to triumph at La Primavera since Pippo Pozzato in 2006.
Beyond the finish line he was mobbed by his entourage and the Italian fans, and the exhaustion soon made way for exhilaration. "I don't have words," he told the TV cameras.
Nibali was nominally working alongside teammate Sonny Colbrelli as an unaggressive race, which started out in driving rain before being slowed by a headwind on the Ligurian coast, seemed destined to culminate in a bunch sprint. As it was, he almost went away by stealth on the Poggio, following an attack from Krists Neilands (Israel Cycling Academy) before finding himself alone with a surprisingly big gap over the large bunch.
"In the last 15km I had really good sensations," said Nibali. "On the Poggio I worked with Colbrelli and in the last 5km I only followed the other rider. When my director came on the radio and gave me the time gap, I only thought 'full gas'."
Having dropped Neilands, and having kicked again to fend off a chase from Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin), Nibali continued to pull away and crested the Poggio with 10 seconds in hand. An artist of a descender, he cut through the tight corners without fault and carried a lead of eight seconds onto the flat roads in the final two kilometres. Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) tried a last gasp attack, while FDJ and Quick-Step Floors mounted late chases, but Nibali's resilience proved too much.
Everyone expects Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) to add Milan-San Remo to his palmares one day but the world champion had to settle for sixth place today. He had been active in the chase towards the top of the Poggio and followed his teammate Daniel Oss down the descent before tracking Trentin, but was unable to make the podium in the sprint. Quick-Step Floors led out for Elia Viviani but the Italian faded badly. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emriates), another former winner, finished fourth, with Jurgen Roelandts (BMC) taking an impressive fifth. Michael Matthews (Sunweb), Magnus Cort (Astana), and Colbrelli, all sprinters who can climb, came in next, while Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) rounded out the top 10.
Earlier in the race Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) was forced to abandon, the former winner hitting a bollard just ahead of the Poggio and catapulting over the top before being hit from behind as other riders ploughed in to him.
How it happened
The riders woke up to heavy rain in Milan, and it continued to pour as they arrived at the start in the shadow of the Castello Sforzesco in central Milan to sign on and prepare for seven hours and 294 kilometres in the saddle, bellies full from the morning's feast of carbohydrates.
Despite the conditions, the riders seemed happy to be racing and excited to contest the first Monument of the season. Teams signed on together, with Bora-Hansgrohe and Team Sky the last on stage, reflecting their importance and success in 2017. UCI President David Lappartient was also at the start and posed for photographs with Sagan.
The riders rolled out of central Milan under pouring rain, with only the forecasts of dry, sunny conditions in San Remo to boost their morale.
The race officially started on the long straight via della Chiesa Rossa, 7.6km south of Milan. The flag dropped at 10:13 and the race was on, with 294km to race. Loïc Chetout (Cofidis) was the only non-starter.
As per tradition, the break soon formed, with the peloton happy to let the early attacks go. Surprisingly nine riders got in the move and worked smoothly to escape to glory.
The nine riders were Mirco Maestri and Lorenzo Rota (Bardiani-CSF), Evgeny Koberniak (Gazprom Rusvelo), Guy Sagiv (Israel Cycling Academy), Dennis Van Winden (Israel Cycling Academy), Sho Hatsuyama (Nippo-Vini Fantini), Charles Planet (Novo Nordisk), Matteo Bono (UAE Team Emirates) and Jacopo Mosca (Wilier Selle Italia).
Only Bono was from a WorldTour team but the Italian loves to be in the Milan-San Remo break. He was also in the move in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
The peloton let the nine go away on the flat roads of Lombardy and they pushed their lead out to 6:00 after an hour of racing at 41.2kph, with Bora-Hansgrohe, Team Sky and Quick-Step Floors setting the tempo behind. The rain eased in Novi Ligure but the road remained wet on the way to the Passo Turchino.
The Passo Turchino rises to 532m but climbs gradually from Ovada. However, it helped the peloton pull back time on the break, with BMC upping the pace slightly as the race headed into the clouds. At the summit it was down to 4:30 and even less after Team Sky lead the peloton down the descent. The peloton eased as they smelled the sea air for the first time and the break of nine pushed their lead back out to 5:00.
Wet roads and traffic furniture raised the tension in the peloton a little and the pace eased after a crash saw Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) go down and dirt his white kit. Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) was also involved, as was Lukasz Wisniowski of Team Sky and Mitchell Docker (EF Education First-Drapac). Docker and the Polish rider were unable to continue, leaving Team Sky a rider down for the finale.
Sagan was wisely riding up front in the wheels of Team Sky, who were protecting Michal Kwiatkowski and Gianni Moscon.
With 140km left to race, with 161.7km in their legs, Luke Rowe (Team Sky), Tim Declercq (Quick-Step Floors) and Juraj Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) continued to take turns on the front to keep the break in check.
Sun shines and speeds rise
The rain fell hard and heavy in Savona but the riders could see blue skies along the coast as they snaked along the coast. Their odyssey in the rain ended with 70km to go, with the roads finally turned dry in Ceriale. The break was being gradually reeled in thanks to the work of Juraj Sagan, Rowe and Quick-Step Floors.
Rider began to take off their rain jackets, overshoes and swap gloves, with Sagan getting a push from a Bora-Hansgrohe teammate on the front of the peloton as he prepared for the finale. The speed rose as did the tension but the rain meant 2018 would be one of the slowest editions of recent years. With 50km to go, as the first Capi climbs began to bite the riders' legs, the break was just 2:00 head of the peloton.
As they reached the Cappo Berta, with 39km to go, the gap was down to half a minute, and already Marcel Kittel was being distanced from the bunch. Ahead, the attacks started to shatter the breakaway, with Maestri having a go on the high-speed descent. The climb left only four men out front, with Van Winden, Bono, and Rota surviving the acceleration.
Kittel had Nils Politt to haul him back into the bunch, and with enough flat roads before the Cipressa, he tacked back onto the bunch with time to recover. The breakaway had no hopes of surviving to the base of the climb as Groupama-FDJ set a furious pace as they headed toward San Lorenzo al Mare. With 30km to go, the bunch was all back together, the sky was blue, the sun warm, and possibilities endless.
Calm on the Cipressa
Mitchelton-Scott was at the front for Matteo Trentin as they hit the base of the Cipressa, and Nathan Haas was on the wheel of Nibali awaiting the inevitable attack as once again, his teammate Kittel was spat out the back as soon as the road tilted upward. Peter Sagan was placidly tucked in the midst of the peloton, while Arnaud Demare sat fourth wheel, in the back seat of his Groupama-FDJ train with Ignatas Konovalovas driving.
The pace was well controlled, with weaker riders heading out the back, but the sprinters and puncheurs biding their time as Team Sky headed to the front to take over from FDJ.
Dylan van Baarle's efforts strong out the bunch but Demare was still looking comfortable just behind, while Kristoff, Cavendish, Ewan and more still in the mix. Astana came to the front before the top, but the pace was still relatively sedate leading to some elbows being thrown in the bunch as riders fought to hold position.
A huge peloton sped to the Poggio, with a full-on lead-out into the base of the climb from Groupama-FDJ and Astana driving the pace flat out. But the traffic furniture just before the climb caused a horrific crash, with Cavendish nailing the bollard in the middle of the road and crashing heavily.
Bahrain-Merida took over the pacemaking as the gradient began to bite, before Marcus Burghard opened a gap, with BMC's Jempy Drucker tacking onto the move.
Drucker left Burghardt behind before the top, but Bahrain-Merida kept up the pressure behind and reeled him in.
Krists Nielands launched the attack before the crest of the Poggio that Nibali took advantage of, and although Nielands was soon dropped, Nibali forged on alone with a suddenly large advantage.
Over the top, the gap was 12 seconds for one of the best descenders in the peloton with a long history of blasting down the Poggio, and it was panic stations behind, as Matteo Trentin sensed the danger and set off in pursuit.
Nibali still had nine thin seconds and a long line of riders chasing him as he reached the bottom, with defending champino Michal Kwiatkowski, Michael Matthews, Sagan and Ewan all eyeing each other behind.
With all of Italy clenching their teeth down upon on their fingernails, Nibali entered the final turns with the peloton bearing down on him, with last year's runner-up Julian Alaphilippe leading the bunch in.
But he'd finally timed his Poggio attack correctly, and after a dozen years of disappointment, Italy finally had a champion in La Classicissima in Vincenzo Nibali.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida||7:18:43|
|2||Caleb Ewan (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott|
|3||Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|4||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates|
|5||Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) BMC Racing Team|
|6||Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|7||Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb|
|8||Magnus Cort (Den) Astana Pro Team|
|9||Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida|
|10||Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo|
|11||Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky|
|12||Matti Breschel (Den) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale|
|13||Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|14||Sacha Modolo (Ita) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale|
|15||Marco Canola (Ita) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini|
|16||Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data|
|17||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team|
|18||Nathan Haas (Aus) Katusha-Alpecin|
|19||Elia Viviani (Ita) Quick-Step Floors|
|20||Maximiliano Richeze (Arg) Quick-Step Floors||0:00:04|
|21||Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott|
|22||Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:00:05|
|23||Krists Neilands (Lat) Israel Cycling Academy|
|24||Jos van Emden (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|25||Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain-Merida|
|26||Tony Gallopin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|27||Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing Team|
|28||Luis León Sanchez (Spa) Astana Pro Team|
|29||Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team Sky|
|30||Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Mitchelton-Scott|
|31||Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb|
|32||Daniel Oss (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:00:10|
|33||Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Bahrain-Merida||0:00:11|
|34||Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha-Alpecin||0:00:15|
|35||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors|
|36||Oscar Gatto (Ita) Astana Pro Team||0:00:17|
|37||Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott|
|38||Julien Vermote (Bel) Dimension Data||0:00:32|
|39||Edward Theuns (Bel) Team Sunweb|
|40||Scott Thwaites (GBr) Dimension Data|
|41||Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|42||Cyril Gautier (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|43||Koen de Kort (Ned) Trek-Segafredo|
|44||Ben Swift (GBr) UAE Team Emirates|
|45||August Jensen (Nor) Israel Cycling Academy|
|46||Fabio Felline (Ita) Trek-Segafredo|
|47||Guillaume Boivin (Can) Israel Cycling Academy|
|48||Sam Oomen (Ned) Team Sunweb||0:00:34|
|49||Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita) Groupama-FDJ|
|50||Enrico Battaglin (Ita) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|51||Davide Cimolai (Ita) Groupama-FDJ||0:00:45|
|52||Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia||0:00:53|
|53||José Gonçalves (Por) Katusha-Alpecin||0:01:02|
|54||Sven Erik Bystrøm (Nor) UAE Team Emirates|
|55||Danny van Poppel (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|56||Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) BMC Racing Team|
|57||Carlos Barbero (Spa) Movistar Team||0:01:21|
|58||Marcus Burghardt (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:01:27|
|59||Zakkari Dempster (Aus) Israel Cycling Academy|
|60||Igor Boev (Rus) Gazprom-Rusvelo||0:02:23|
|61||Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin|
|62||Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale|
|63||Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|64||Edoardo Zardini (Ita) Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia|
|65||David Lozano (Spa) Team Novo Nordisk|
|66||Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|67||Clement Venturini (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|68||Koen Bouwman (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|69||Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) Israel Cycling Academy|
|70||Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale|
|71||Ignatas Konovalovas (Ltu) Groupama-FDJ|
|72||Artem Nych (Rus) Gazprom-Rusvelo|
|73||Stephen Cummings (GBr) Dimension Data|
|74||Sergey Firsanov (Rus) Gazprom-Rusvelo|
|75||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors|
|76||Fabio Sabatini (Ita) Quick-Step Floors|
|77||Carlos Betancur (Col) Movistar Team|
|78||Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale|
|79||Alexis Gougeard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|80||Juan José Lobato (Spa) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini|
|81||Ivan Santaromita (Ita) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini|
|82||Marco Tizza (Ita) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini|
|83||Neilson Powless (USA) LottoNL-Jumbo||0:02:56|
|84||Winner Anacona (Col) Movistar Team||0:03:52|
|85||Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida||0:04:00|
|86||Luka Pibernik (Slo) Bahrain-Merida|
|87||Nikolas Maes (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:04:50|
|88||Gijs Van Hoecke (Bel) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|89||Cesare Benedetti (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|90||Salvatore Puccio (Ita) Team Sky|
|91||Daniele Bennati (Ita) Movistar Team|
|92||Michael Schär (Swi) BMC Racing Team|
|93||Simone Consonni (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|94||Dayer Quintana (Col) Movistar Team|
|95||Alberto Bettiol (Ita) BMC Racing Team||0:05:20|
|96||Simone Ponzi (Ita) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini|
|97||Michael Valgren (Den) Astana Pro Team|
|98||Giovanni Carboni (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|99||Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Team Sky|
|100||Enrico Barbin (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|101||Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Gazprom-Rusvelo|
|102||Davide Villella (Ita) Astana Pro Team|
|103||Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|104||Sam Bewley (NZl) Mitchelton-Scott|
|105||Lennard Kämna (Ger) Team Sunweb|
|106||Roger Kluge (Ger) Mitchelton-Scott|
|107||Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team||0:05:22|
|108||Mirco Maestri (Ita) Bardiani CSF||0:06:14|
|109||Jasper De Buyst (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:06:42|
|110||Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:07:53|
|111||Gregory Rast (Swi) Trek-Segafredo|
|112||Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:08:30|
|113||Guillaume Bonnafond (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|114||Alessandro Tonelli (Ita) Bardiani CSF||0:08:37|
|115||Kiel Reijnen (USA) Trek-Segafredo||0:09:37|
|116||Joonas Henttala (Fin) Team Novo Nordisk|
|117||Ryan Mullen (Irl) Trek-Segafredo|
|118||Andrea Peron (Ita) Team Novo Nordisk|
|119||Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Lotto Soudal|
|120||Rick Zabel (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin|
|121||Francisco Ventoso (Spa) BMC Racing Team|
|122||Marco Coledan (Ita) Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia|
|123||Victor De La Parte (Spa) Movistar Team|
|124||Kristijan Koren (Slo) Bahrain-Merida|
|125||Iljo Keisse (Bel) Quick-Step Floors|
|126||Maarten Wynants (Bel) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|127||Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky|
|128||Simone Andreetta (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|129||Mickael Delage (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||0:11:40|
|130||Lars Bak (Den) Lotto Soudal|
|131||Charles Planet (Fra) Team Novo Nordisk|
|132||Andreas Schillinger (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|133||Stepan Kuriyanov (Rus) Gazprom-Rusvelo|
|134||Dennis van Winden (Ned) Israel Cycling Academy|
|135||Lorenzo Rota (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|136||Sam Brand (GBr) Team Novo Nordisk|
|137||Guy Sagiv (Isr) Israel Cycling Academy|
|138||Olivier Le Gac (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|139||Truls Engen Korsaeth (Nor) Astana Pro Team|
|140||Roy Curvers (Ned) Team Sunweb|
|141||Jay Thomson (RSA) Dimension Data|
|142||Umberto Poli (Ita) Team Novo Nordisk|
|143||Boy van Poppel (Ned) Trek-Segafredo|
|144||Damiano Cima (Ita) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini|
|145||Jacopo Mosca (Ita) Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia|
|146||Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky|
|147||Nikolai Cherkasov (Rus) Gazprom-Rusvelo||0:13:19|
|148||Cyril Lemoine (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:15:03|
|149||Bert Van Lerberghe (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|150||Sho Hatsuyama (Jpn) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini|
|151||Hector Carretero (Spa) Movistar Team|
|152||Svein Tuft (Can) Mitchelton-Scott||0:16:13|
|153||Maxim Belkov (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin|
|154||Taylor Phinney (USA) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale|
|155||Marcel Kittel (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin|
|156||Tim Declercq (Bel) Quick-Step Floors||0:16:32|
|157||Juraj Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|158||Brian Kamstra (Ned) Team Novo Nordisk|
|159||Matteo Busato (Ita) Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia|
|160||Jakub Mareczko (Ita) Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia|
|161||Filippo Ganna (Ita) UAE Team Emirates||0:16:53|
|162||Liam Bertazzo (Ita) Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia|
|163||Daniel Teklehaimanot (Eri) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:21:00|
|164||Evgeny Kobernyak (Rus) Gazprom-Rusvelo|
|DNS||Loic Chetout (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol) Team Sky|
|DNF||Anthony Turgis (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Mark Cavendish (GBr) Dimension Data|
|DNF||Mark Renshaw (Aus) Dimension Data|
|DNF||Simon Clarke (Aus) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale|
|DNF||Mitchell Docker (Aus) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale|
|DNF||Daniel McLay (GBr) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale|
|DNF||Nikias Arndt (Ger) Team Sunweb|
|DNF||Matteo Bono (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|