From Sunday’s Milano-San Remo there were a few things of note other than the arrival of Alexander Kristoff to the big time, writes Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM


Pro Conti teams earn their invite
Four of the seven riders represented in the EB (early break) came from non-WorldTour teams, and only Belkin's Maarten Tjallingii lastest longer than the best Pro Conti rider, UnitedHealthCare's Marc de Maar, who after more than 250 kilometres away, were only caught inside the final 20km, on the descent of the Cipressa.

Bardiani-CSF, I thought, rode a great race, too. After having Nicola Boem in the EB, Enrico Battaglin made a move on the Poggio, taking Trek's Grégory Rast with him, and although that came to nought, they had Sonny Colbrelli for the bunch sprint, who finished sixth. Defending champ Gerald Ciolek from MTN-Qhubeka, while he didn't quite have it in the end, rode creditably to a place inside the top ten.

To paraphrase an oft-used NRL team's catchcry, 'Go the Underdoggies!'

Weather works in favour of sprinters
As commentator Carlton Kirby said on Cycling Central's TV coverage Sunday night as the race neared its denouement, "Because of the weather, the bunch has been shielding each other."

Wet and wild weather invariably means less risk-taking. Only Vincenzo Nibali was willing to gamble everything with his solo surge on the Cipressa - but why didn't the likes of Fabian Cancellara, Philippe Gilbert, Greg Van Avermaet, Sylvain Chavanel and Sebastian Langeveld try also? They were good enough to finish in the lead group of 25, so they were all chugging along going nicely, yet other than Nibbles, they opted for the inevitably of a bunch sprint, and ultimately, defeat, rather than opt for a make-or-break move that just may have netted them victory in La Primavera.

Even winner Alexander Kristoff himself said afterwards, "If a big group had gone after (Nibali), it would probably have made it all the way."

Still, while the inclement weather stymied, or at least discouraged, more attacks like Nibali's, it didn't make things that much easier for a number of sprinters and/or their lead-out men. Perhaps crucially for Mark Cavendish, it was enough to send Michal Kwiatkowski, Alessandro Petacchi and Mark Renshaw out the back door; Orica-GreenEDGE had a day to forget; and Edvald Boasson Hagen faltered when it mattered, leaving Ben Swift, who, luckily for Team Sky was having a blinder, to make amends, rounding off the podium. A heady mix of weather and distance seemed to dent the finishing kicks of Cavendish, Ciolek and Sagan, while Andre Greipel had to munch his bars just to finish in the first group.

Great winners = bad losers?
That's what I think every time Fabian Cancellara finishes somewhere other than first and later opens his mouth.

"Of course I want to win, and not be second, or someplace on the podium like the last four years," he said. "But it was special circumstances again, lots of cold and rain and it was not difficult other than the weather to get to the end."

Not difficult other than the weather to get to the end, Fabian? Really? I'm sure others would beg to differ - in fact, you begged to differ when you first said: "I am really tired, it was a race of survival. Many times during the race I was cold. With or without the Pompeiana, it was still hard."

Can one so easily separate the weather from multitude other factors that comprise a race and determine its outcome? I don't think so.

How does he know it wasn't the distance or the Cipressa or Poggio that in part got to him? If Rast was feeling good - clearly demonstrated by his move with Battaglin on the Poggio - maybe Cancellara should have gone then; a bit like 2012, when Nibali, Simon Gerrans and he broke free and stayed clear. Or with Rast and his other team-mate Fabio Felline, who also finished in the front group, hatched a plan to pull off a last kilometre flyer, like he did when he won in 2008.

"It was a race where you had to be patient - to wait and wait. Maybe it was a little bit boring because of that."

A far as I'm concerned he waited too long. As for calling this edition "a little bit boring", it was a sentiment expressed by no other rider than himself. Blessed with preternatural strength beyond most of his already gifted peers, he has the rare ability to animate a race like few others - yet once again, he chose to use brawn over brain… so he deserved what he got.

Sorry to those with a bit of a man-crush on Fabian, but once in a while, I would like to see a little more humility from him.

Thankfully, Tom Boonen disproves the big-winner-bad-loser theory, or at least bucks the trend.

Even if his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team manager had a characteristically medal-worthy whinge that day, Boonen demonstrated how it's done after bombing out of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad at the start of the month. "It may sound weird for a so-called Flandrien, but I've never been able to stand this foul weather, I'm too skinny for this coldness. I was shivering from the cold on the bike. My wrists are hurting from the shaking. I didn't feel anything. I couldn't shift, eat. I couldn't do anything," said the warts-and-all Belgian champ that day.

"The cold came over me, and I just couldn't stand it. It felt like it was only just above freezing point. Stybar, Trentin and I ended up in a second group just because we were frozen. We tried to get back, hoping it would improve, but it didn't. All the skinny guys were suffering. Tomorrow's weather will be better so let's hope for that."

"Tomorrow" turned out to be Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. And in case you didn't see it, OPQS smashed it to bits, before Tommeke emerged triumphant. That's how you do it.

Team of champions versus champion team...
While I'm on the subject of Cancellara, I wonder if his Trek Factory Racing team and BMC Racing have something in common. Something preventing them from success, or realising better results than one would expect of them.

Observe the behaviour at Orica-GreenEDGE, Team Sky, OPQS, FDJ, Garmin-Sharp and Lotto-Belisol - then contrast it with what you see at Trek and BMC. Unquestionably all are stacked with great talent, however I'd argue for the most part, riders on the former really enjoy being around one another and supporting team objectives, whereas those on the latter feel obliged to be seen around one another and supporting team objectives (which they interpret as following orders).

If Cancellara had a rider like Luca Paolini was to Kristoff in Milano-Sanremo, would that have made a difference? Quite possibly. What if Tejay van Garderen or Cadel Evans or Philippe Gilbert were on a team like OGE or Sky Procycling, with a team completely dedicated to the cause in mind and body, as opposed to only in pay cheque - or is it the personalities themselves that create these virtual divisions? Okay, you might have had the disharmony between Bradley Wiggins and Christopher Froome which some say was the highlight of the 2012 Tour, though I'd think you'd agree it was more isolated than indicative of how the team operates as a whole (and from what I understand, they've hugged and made up).

Aside from one's physical and mental attributes, it is leadership qualities, team strength and team environment that produce results. In this rarefied world of professional sports, those small percentage gains - or losses - really do make the difference between winning and losing.