Five takeaways from San Remo

Al Hinds

Milan-San Remo, cycling, Italy
Cannondale's Peter Sagan was surprised by Gerald Ciolek of the MTN-Qhubeka at Milan-San Remo (AAP)
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Freezing cold temperatures, snow, an unscheduled bus trip and Peter Sagan not winning, were not outcomes scripted for the 2013 edition of Milan-San Remo - but it was a race which more than lived up to its status as one of cycling's oldest monuments. A bleary-eyed Al Hinds takes a look at some of the takeaways from the first major classic of the year.

1. The San Remo hoodoo fells Sagan

Milan-San Remo's curse of the race favourite lives on. Philippe Gilbert started at short odds in 2011, Fabian Cancellara's name was on everybody's lips last year, and few would have looked past Peter Sagan taking out La Primavera in the race's 104th edition. None of them won.

As Gerard Vroomen pointed out on Saturday, rarely does the race favourite at San Remo actually conquer La Clasica, an oddity which seems to act as a hoodoo on their chances. Sunday was no different.

Sagan rode a near-flawless race, supported ably and totally by Cannondale but was left disappointed by second place to accompany his fourth from last year. There were few mistakes. On the Poggio he allowed Luca Paolini (Katusha) to instigate the key move, before jumping behind the surge from Swiss-express Fabian Cancellara.

He was watchful in the approach to the sprint, dosing his efforts beautifully throughout the finale. But bike racing is a funny beast, rarely predictable, and difficult to tame. If there was one fault in Sagan's race it was the bullish confidence in the final 500 metres that he'd already won. He opened up his final effort marginally too early, forgetting Ciolek has a handy turn of pace, and was pipped on the line.

It was a rare, and perhaps welcome glimpse of the Slovak's humanity on a hellish day, and a reminder that he can be beaten, he is mortal. While Ciolek took the spoils, Sagan still looks imperious for Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem. Meanwhile, the hoodoo continues.

2. Gerald Ciolek's MTN-Qhubeka move pays

When Gerald Ciolek made the move to MTN-Qhubeka late last year, leaving behind Belgian super-team, Omega Pharma-Quickstep, it raised a few eyebrows. Before this season Ciolek had taken four wins in four years, a meagre return from the former under 23 world champion since he'd left the Highroad setup in 2008. Ciolek's move to MTN-Qhubeka screamed of a failed-rider cashing in on reputation in a small and ambitious team. But conversely, and like Heinrich Haussler going to IAM, it allowed the German total and unflinching support for his talents to thrive. Gone were the frustrations of being in a team with bigger stars, like Mark Cavendish (Colombia), Tom Boonen and Sylvain Chavanel (Quickstep).

Ciolek may have been unable to pull a turn in the Cancellara-Sagan move, but being able to follow the two strongest riders in the peloton takes some pretty awesome power. Of the six in the front move, only Ian Stannard was less heralded before today and that played to Ciolek's favour, allowing the German to arrive at the final 500 metres relatively fresh while Cancellara, Chavanel and Sagan all sparred. Ciolek had the right wheel, waited patiently, and pounced. His move to MTN-Qhubeka has been more than vindicated, and he's finally confirmed himself the rider that he had been tipped to be for the best part of the last five years.

3. Chavanel to be OPQS's man for the cobbles?

Omega Pharma-Quickstep may be sweating over Tom Boonen's form for the cobbled classics, with April just around the corner, but the team does have a very dangerous looking Sylvain Chavanel to fall back on should it need to. Chavanel has earmarked the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix as his big goals for 2013, but very nearly pulled off a San Remo coup with a typically attacking display.

Fresh off a stage win in Paris-Nice, Chavanel was one of the form riders going into La Primavera, and was given the freedom to ruffle the feathers of Peter Sagan, with Cavendish the team's anchor for the sprint. The Frenchman did exactly what he needed to do off the back of the Cipressa, getting away from Sagan, but even with the diesel of British champion Ian Stannard couldn't hold off the attacks from the chase on the Poggio. A harder race, like the Tour of Flanders will suit Chavanel to a tee, and after coming so close in 2011, you feel he'd be hard-pressed to not come away with a maiden classic to his name this year.

4. Too early to say anything on Sky's unique 2013

Doubts over Team Sky's Tenerife-based preparation for the Classics, an experimental build-up drawn up by sports science mastermind Tim Kerrison, were somewhat allayed by Ian Stannard's performance, sixth on the day, but the British squad will be looking for more out of the rest of the spring. A sick Edvald Boasson Hagen struggled with the pace on the Cipressa, and pulled the pin, while Geraint Thomas crashed at the worst possible time to end his chances. Had he not crashed Thomas may well have made the selection on the Poggio, but Boasson Hagen's indifferent start to 2013 is worth noting.

5. No longer a sprinter's race?

Brutal conditions may have contributed to much of the atrophy of the 200-strong field for Milan-San Remo, but the six-rider selection that formed over the Poggio had little do with the wintery weather. This is a hard race, and has been for a few years now. Ever since the inclusion of La Manie, the shortened distance from the top of the Poggio to the finish in the Lungomare Italo Calvino the race has favoured the barrodeurs and puncheurs.

The famous bunch finishes on the Via Roma are a thing of the past, as is the sprinter's classic tag. A minor tweak in favour of the sprinters every second or third year for the race to retain some of its former character, I think, would not be out of place. San Remo shouldn't be an Amstel Gold in March.


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