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Van Aert: I fired my best arrows chasing Pogacar on the Poggio at Milan-San Remo

Wout Van Aert of Belgium and Team Jumbo - Visma, Primoz Roglic of Slovenia and Team Jumbo - Visma and Mathieu Van Der Poel of Netherlands and Team Alpecin-Fenix climbing the Poggio di Sanremo (160m) during the 113th Milano-Sanremo 2022 a 293km one day race from Milano to Sanremo / #MilanoSanremo / on March 19, 2022 in Sanremo, Italy. (Photo by Luca Bettini - Pool/Getty Images)
Jumbo-Visma teammates Wout van Aert and Primož Roglič (center) chasing on the Poggio (Image credit: Luca Bettini - Pool/Getty Images)

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) was inevitably drawn into the strongest-man contest with Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) on the way up the Poggio, but it was Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) who swooped away with the main prize over the other side. Now 115 years into its history, Milan-San Remo remains as beguiling as ever.

In the pandemic-delayed edition of two years ago, Van Aert’s inclination to go all-in served him well when he tracked Julian Alaphilippe’s decisive acceleration on the Poggio and then outsprinted him on the Via Roma. This time out, Van Aert’s instincts were similar, and he followed each of Pogačar’s four rasping attacks on the way up the final climb after the UAE Team Emirates squad had led from the Cipressa.

Despite that onslaught, however, the pre-race favourites never managed to disengage themselves fully from their pursuers. Van Aert crested the summit in a four-man group with Pogačar, Søren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), but the chasers were already upon them. Big bets don’t always come off on the Riviera.

“Tadej Pogačar's attacks came early and were heavy; I fired my best arrows there,” Van Aert admitted after he crossed the line in eighth, two seconds down on Mohorič.

“In such a case, you might be better off sitting a little further back, like whoever wins in the end. But you never know, it could always be the right attack. I have no regrets, but I am disappointed.”

Mohorič’s talent as a descender was well flagged beforehand, and he even advertised his decision to use a dropper post in the early part of the race, jokingly warning his rivals about the innovation. “I told them, ‘Don’t follow me on the descent, it’s at your own risk'," Mohorič told reporters in the press room afterwards. Van Aert had ample warning of Mohorič’s offensive, but there was little he could do once the Slovenian gained a few bike lengths.

“If he survived the climb, I was sure he would try something on the descent. I know him a bit through Primož Roglič and he has apparently been working for this race for years,” Van Aert said. “I wanted to slide in when he passed, but I was a bit caught up with Mathieu van der Poel and Pogačar. When I wasn't on his wheel, I knew it would be very dangerous. And it turned out that way.”

The frantic final kilometres from the top of the Poggio to the Via Roma again played out amid a cacophony of split-second decisions at the head of the race. Conducting a harmonious pursuit is never straightforward in such an auditorium.

His eternal rival Van der Poel aside, Van Aert suggested that nobody else was carrying the same tune once the road flattened out in the final 2km. Anthony Turgis (TotalEnergies) clipped away to take second place behind Mohorič, while Van der Poel won the sprint for third place and Van Aert rolled in at the rear of that group.

“I raced to win, as always. Mathieu van der Poel did too, but the rest quickly thought of the podium,” Van Aert said. “That's their right, but I'd rather go down fighting. There was not much cooperation. Some may come here to train, but I came to win.”

Roglič

Van Aert was accompanied on the Poggio by teammate Roglič, though the Paris-Nice winner acknowledged afterwards that he lacked the explosivity necessary to follow Pogačar’s series of accelerations on the climb. Distanced over the summit, he came home in 17th place, 11 seconds down on Mohorič.

“Was the race too long or too fast? Both, eh,” Roglič joked to reporters when he emerged from the Jumbo-Visma bus after the finish. “I just didn’t have that kick at the end. It was super hard.”

Roglič had lined up in Italy hoping to return the support he received from Van Aert on the final stage of Paris-Nice, but he was unable to bridge back up to his teammate on the drop into San Remo, leaving the Belgian champion to form an ad hoc alliance with his rival Van der Poel. 

“I tried to catch back but I couldn’t make it,” Roglič said. “We did everything, I think, and in the end we have to accept it and move forward.”

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Barry Ryan

Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.