The best rider and the best team celebrated on the Italian Riviera on Saturday afternoon, when after nearly seven long hours and a nerve-wracking finale, Julian Alaphilippe punched the air in celebration as he captured a memorable win at Milano-Sanremo and continued his period of unprecedented success, which sees him sit on seven victories amassed since the end of January, having taken a win at every single race he had started this season.
“It’s very difficult to realize what I achieved today together with this amazing team! There was pressure on me, but I knew the form was there and together with my Wolfpack teammates I did a perfect race. Tim pulled the entire day and then, on the Poggio, we tried to make the race very hard with Philippe and Styby, and afterwards I attacked as late as possible to forge a selection. On the downhill I tried to recover and remain focused, then in the last two kilometers I said that I want to win, and after closing the gap to Trentin, I continued to remain attentive, so when Mohoric went with 600 meters to go I said to myself it’s now or never. It’s unbelievable”, an emotional Julian Alaphilippe said to the melee of journalists at the finish.
At 291 kilometers, Milano-Sanremo is the longest one-day race of the calendar, starting early in the morning, when the bunch leaves behind foggy Milan and heads to the sunny and vibrant Sanremo, as the race slowly unfolds for six hours, covering the Turchino and Tre Capi, before building up like an Alfred Hitchcock thriller for the final 30 minutes, which take the riders over the Cipressa and Poggio.
Tim Declercq confirmed his “El Tractor” monicker, taking the reins at the front of the peloton as soon as a ten-man breakaway formed and setting a steady tempo – which resulted in the escapees being brought back on the Cipressa – for more than 250 kilometers. The headwind on this penultimate ascent meant no attacks could be launched, the only move before the Poggio coming on the descent, where Niccolo Bonifazio (Direct Energie) opened a gap that eventually melted under the formidable impetus of Deceuninck – Quick-Step.
Belgian Champion Yves Lampaert then took over and led into the 3.7km-long hill, before Philippe Gilbert and Zdenek Stybar set a brutal pace that inflicted pain and suffering, stretching the field and dropping the sprinters. Once the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad champion peeled off the front, Alaphilippe attacked, tearing the bunch apart and creating the decisive split, eliminating the threat of a mass gallop in the process.
Eleven riders rushed towards the finishing straight with a clear gap over the remnants of the peloton, nullifying a late acceleration of Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) ahead of the flamme rouge. The first to show his intentions was Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida), who turned on the gas on the left side of the road. Sensing the opportunity, Julian jumped onto his wheel and opened his sprint with over 200 meters to go, holding off the charge of Oliver Naesen (AG2R) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) and outclassing all his opponents as he dashed to the most important victory of his career.
“I am so, so proud of my team! Tim controlled the escapees since the start of the day, while Yves, Styby and Philippe protected and brought me into position on the Poggio. Before the race I asked them to make sure I was fifth wheel tops at the foot of the climb and they took care of it”, said the fourth reigning Tour de France KOM champion to triumph at the prestigious “La Primavera” when asked about the incredible amount of work laid down by his Deceuninck – Quick-Step, who left an indelible mark over the first Monument of the season. “At the finish, everybody was crying and I was so happy and delighted to be able to share this memorable moment of immense joy with them.”
Photo credit: © Tim De Waele / Getty Images