The warm spring weather and steady pace for much of Milan-San Remo seemed set to help the sprinters dominate this year’s La Classicissima, but in truth, it led to their downfall. The attackers were still strong and confident on the Poggio, and so able to blow the race apart and share the spoils on the Via Roma.
Eventual winner, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) sparked the decisive selection of seven riders in the final kilometre of the Poggio, with only Vincenzo Nibali and Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida), Simon Clarke (EF Education First) and Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) able to get on during the descent and the final flat roads in San Remo. The pure sprinters and their teammates were distanced and dropped, leaving just 11 riders to fight for victory.
Few noticed but Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) won the bunch sprint for 14th place on the Via Roma, some 27 seconds behind Alaphilippe. Magnus Cort (Astana) was just behind him, as was Kristoff’s teammate Fernando Gaviria, Giacomo Nizzolo (Dimension Data), Davide Cimolai (Israel Cycling Project), Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ).
There were 41 riders in the sprinters’ group, but they were all reduced to bit-part roles as Alaphilippe and the attackers stole the limelight.
In 2018, Ewan won the sprint for second place just a few bike lengths behind solo attacker Vincenzo Nibali. That confirmed he could one day win Milan-San Remo and he seemed on form this year after his move to Lotto Soudal. However, his race exemplified how the sprinters missed out on a shot at victory at this year’s Milan-San Remo.
“You could kind of feel it was going to be hard in the final because it was super easy up the Cipressa,” Ewan told Cyclingnews when arrived at the Lotto Soudal team bus.
“That made for an aggressive Poggio, and the strongest guys up there went full gas. It was hard for me to follow and I was also a little too far back, so I wasn’t where I needed to be when the split happened. But to be honest, I think it would have been too hard for me too.”
Ewan was clearly disappointed, but he had few regrets. He knows he can only keep coming back every spring, hoping that the cards fall in his favour and he is the fastest in a high-speed sprint finish in the Via Roma.
“We did everything we could, and the guys always had me in position. I think Milan-San Remo suits me but it was super-fast. There were a lot of climbers there too, so that makes it super hard,” he said.
“In the past few years I’ve definitely been up there, and in the front, but every now and again, there’s a strong group that goes away. You just have to keep coming back year after year and hoping for a sprint.”