Well-placed inside the final 500 meters, Fernando Gaviria crashed and missed out on the opportunity to fight for the win at the season's first Monument.
Almost 200 riders gathered in the shadow of Castello Sforzesco – the 15-century construction which was for centuries one of Europe's largest buildings – for the season's first big appointment in terms of one-day races, Milan-Sanremo, the longest and, for many, the most difficult to win Classic of the calendar. Sunny conditions and warm temperatures welcomed the peloton, just as the cyclists were starting the nine kilometers on the neutralized roads, before the race really took off from via della Chiesa Rossa.
Not long after, 11 riders made it into the breakaway and opened a 10-minute gap: Gediminas Bagdonas (AG2R), Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18), Matteo Bono (Lampre-Merida), Marco Coledan (Trek-Segafredo), Samuele Conti (Southeast-Venezuela), Roger Kluge (IAM Cycling), Adrian Kurek (CCC-Sprandi Polkowice), Mirco Maestri (Bardiani), Andrea Peron (Novo Nordisk), Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Serghei Tvetcov (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec).
As it usually happens in Milan-Sanremo, who this year was celebrating its 107th edition, things calmed down for the next couple of hours, the only noteworthy event being a change of course which occurred 130 kilometers inside the race, because of a landslide that took place before the riders were due to pass. As a result of the falling boulders and this rather unusual incident, the organizers decided that the pack should go on the motorway for 9 kilometers, and then rejoin the original route, at Arenzano.
On the Passo del Turchino – the race's first ascent – Dimension Data, Katusha and Tinkoff came at the front of the pack and began chewing into the advantage of the escapees. On Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta, the peloton upped the pace and many began to suffer, being left behind, while other riders were distanced after being involved in several crashes. First one to wave the white flag from the break was Kurek, who was quickly followed by Tvetcov.
At the foot of Cipressa, it was crashes galore, among those involved being Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge), Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Alan Marangoni (Cannondale), Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff) and Julien Vermote. The 26-year-old Belgian sustained a deep wound in his left knee and was taken to the Sanremo hospital, where the medical staff took care of him and cleaned his wound. Tonight, Julien will go back to his home country, where on Sunday he'll undergo further examinations to determine the nature of his injury.
As expected, the screws started getting really turned on the penultimate climb (5.6 km, 4.1% average gradient), when the teams who were interested in a bunch sprint tried to control things, while the others sent their riders to the attack. Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) and Ian Stannard (Team Sky) were the ones to light up the race, but even though they had 23 seconds at the top of Cipressa, they were easily reeled in on the Poggio.
The final ascent of Milan-Sanremo witnessed an all-or-nothing attack of former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), who took five seconds in hand by the time he crested the climb and began flying on the descent, ahead of a peloton led by Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), who eventually reabsorbed him. On the flat section leading to Via Roma, others tried their luck, but without any success, so in the end the race came down to a bunch gallop, just like in the previous two years.
The last 500 meters were chaotic and tense, as almost all the riders coming into the run-in were ahead of their biggest victory to date. Etixx – Quick-Step had three men there: Gianluca Brambilla, Matteo Trentin and Fernando Gaviria. Our Colombian neo-pro was well-placed for the sprint, but unfortunately he hit the deck and couldn't fight for victory. With the finale altered due to the crash, it was Arnaud Démare (FDJ) the one who took advantage of this situation and crossed the line ahead of Ben Swift (Team Sky) and Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Soudal), after seven hours in the saddle.
Best placed Etixx – Quick-Step rider in Milan-Sanremo was Matteo Trentin, who came home in 10th place. Fernando arrived a couple of minutes later, while Zdenek Stybar concluded the season's first Monument almost one quarter of an hour behind the winner, because he too was struck by bad luck on Saturday. The Czech, winner of a Tirreno-Adriatico stage last week, was on the Cipressa descent when he crashed because of a loose dog and although he climbed back on the bike, he couldn't return to the peloton.
Victorious in three races this season, the 21-year-old Fernando Gaviria experienced the toughest day of his pro career, one in which he came very close to a huge result, but was eventually left in tears. Despite the crash, which saw his effort come to an abrupt end, Fernando was keen on taking the positive things out of this race: "I am very sad for what happened. It was my fault, as I was in a perfect position, but then I lost my focus for two seconds, because I began thinking on how to sprint, and touched Van Avermaet's wheel. This was enough to throw away all the hard work of the team. I have mixed feelings: I missed an important opportunity, but on the other hand I am happy that I could cope with a 300-km long race and felt good throughout the day. It's not the crash that hurts, but the outcome, especially as I was thinking of this race since January."
"Tactically, the team was flawless. We had three guys at the front in the final kilometers, and we could have had four, if not for Styby's crash. Brambilla was a key rider there, as was Matteo, who closed the gap twice, once on the Poggio and once when Cancellara attacked. We didn't get the result we were hoping for, but everyone could see that the team was strong and could adapt to all kind of situations. Fernando came really close to writting history today, and even though he didn't win, other opportunities will come for him, as he has a very bright future ahead", concluded sport director Davide Bramati.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele