The 28-year-old Belgian has been a consistent presence in the spring classics for a number of years, yet despite his undoubted class he has always failed to deliver a result that truly reflected his pedigree. That changed on Saturday, with the AG2R La Mondiale rider deserving of his podium place ahead of Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) and Pete Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), who finished third and fourth respectively.
“I hope that this is something that unlocks my 'no results' streak,” a beaming Naesen told Cyclingnews after the podium celebrations on the Via Roma.
The race burst into life on the Poggio, with Alaphilippe unleashing a stinging attack that drew only the best of the best from a reduced field. Sagan and Kwiatkowski were the first to respond but Naesen was on their coattails. As the leaders crested the climb and began the descent into San Remo the race was wide open.
“I knew that Julian would attack, and I knew that he would wait long on the Poggio because that’s what you need to do. The pace was alright for me until he attacked and then I was at 100 per cent and trying to hold the wheel. There were gaps of two meters between all the riders and when I looked back on the descent I only saw champions’ jerseys. I knew at that time that I should be happy to be there.
“I did everything the way that I should have. I had a lot of support from the team and they placed me very well. I never had a feeling that I was too far back or anything. I felt in control of the race, and that’s a very good feeling to have in a race.
“I was around tenth or fifteen on the Poggio, which was very good. Quick Step were controlling the race and I had one elbow touching Sagan and then the other against Valverde, so I knew that I was in a good position.
Late moves from Matteo Trentin and Matej Mohorič were nullified, before Sagan moved to the front just as the sprint began. Naesen stuck to Alaphillipe’s wheel but the Frenchman was simply in a league of his own.
“It went so fast that it’s a bit unrealistic to go alone, but when Trentin went I had to say I was scared he would go to the finish but Sagan was riding so, so fast. In the sprint I launched at 200 meters and Julian went at 250, which was very long but I came back a bit on his rear wheel but that’s where I stayed. All I could see from there was him winning San Remo,” Naesen added.
“Then in the sprint Julian went from far and I was thinking maybe he will explode and I can pass him. I had the space to pass him but nobody could do it. He was that strong. I don’t think that I made any mistakes. I did the best I could, with the legs that I had. So, I can only be happy and proud."
Naesen will return to Belgium with E3 BinckBack Classic his next appointment. After his result in Milan-San Remo the AG2R rider will be hoping that more of the same is just around the corner.