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Having gone down in a crash just before Cipressa, Demare made a remarkable comeback to rejoin the peloton in time for the Poggio and ultimately win Milan-Sanremo in a bunch sprint; Swift was second and Roelandts third

Photo: A.S.O.

ARNAUD DEMARE

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GROUPAMA-FDJ

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JURGEN ROELANDTS

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19.03.2016 @ 17:51 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Arnaud Demare (FDJ) delivered one of the most remarkable rides in recent years to come back from a crash to claim the biggest win of his career in a bunch sprint at Milan-Sanremo. Having hit the deck in the hectic phase just before the Cipressa climb, he rejoined the peloton in time for the key climb of the Poggio and made it over the top with the best before coming out on top in a hectic and chaotic bunch sprint that was marred by a crash for Fernando Gaviria (Etixx-QuickStep). Ben Swift (Sky) had to settle for second while Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) completed the podium.

 

The 2015 season was a long series of disappointments for Arnaud Demare who only won two races during a year of suffering. However, his team was always adamant that he would return to his best and that his numbers in training were better than they have ever been.

 

Cycling is loaded with riders who have proved that persistence pays off and Demare refused to give up. He continued to train like he had always done and today it all came together as he conquered the first monument of his career at Milan-Sanremo.

 

Demare recently won a stage in Paris-Nice but after he left the race with a knee injury, he flew under the radar for the Italian classic. However, with a win in Vattenfall Cyclassics and a second place in Gent-Wevelgem, he had already proved that he can win bunch sprints at the end of long races and that’s what he did when it came together after a very hectic finale.

 

The win was made even more remarkable by the fact that Demare had gone down hard in the most hectic phase of the race: the run-in to the Cipressa climb. Pre-race favourite Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) was also involved in that tumble but while the Australian never became a factor in the race, Demare did a superior work to rejoin the peloton on the descent from the first key climb of the race.

 

He took a few moments to recover at the back of the field before his teammate Kevin Reza brought him to the front in the hectic fight for position that really started with 10km to go. At this point, a 5-rider break had just been caught and it was all back together for the Poggio climb.

 

Roman Kreuziger took a huge turn for Tinkoff to keep the pace high before Laurens De Vreese (Astana) took over. BMC were the next to take control with Daniel Oss but by the time they hit the climb, it was the Sky trio of Luke Rowe, Michal Kwiatkowski and Ben Swift on the front. Meanwhile, Matthews finally rejoined the peloton but he started the climb in the rear end of the field and would not make it to the top with the best.

 

Rowe set the pace on the lower slopes before a very strong Katusha team came to the fore. Jacopo Guarnieri brought Alexander Kristoff into second position and then left it to his teammate Simon Spilak to set the pace. In a surprisingly passive race, Spilak and Damiano Caruo (BMC) stayed on the front next to each other while everybody was keeping their powder dry for the finale.

 

With 7km to go, Andrea Fedi (Southeast) finally started the attacking and as no one reacted, he got an immediate gap. Spilak set a steady pace for Katusha to make sure that Kristoff was always in a good position.

 

Arthur Vichot (FDJ) and Lars Boom (Astana) bridged across to Fedi but as the gap was minimal, Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) suddenly came flying, sprinting past the front trio. However, Oscar Gatto (Tinkoff) reacted quickly and with 6km to go, it was back together.

 

Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) made a counterattack and he quickly got a five-second advantage. Gatto led the chase while everybody waited for the favourites to attack but no one ever tried. Instead, it was Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) who accelerated over the top, marked by Fabian Cancellara (Trek), but the duo never got clear.

 

Nibali and Cancellara set the pace on the descent, keeping the gap stable at around 5 seconds. Sagan also took a turn but as there was no organized chase, Nibali saw an opportunity to make a move. Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) shot it down and the pace went down after Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) had taken a turn.

 

As they hit the flat road, no one was able to take control and this opened the door for Gallopin to make another unsuccessful attack. Having realized that his teammate Fernando Gaviria was there, it was Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) who finally tried to organize a chase, taking a huge turn on the front.

 

With the gap still at 5 seconds, Cancellara made his bid for the win and only Stybar could follow. They passed Kwiatkowski just before the flamme rouge, but Sagan, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) made contact.

 

When Cancellara swung off, the pace went down and this was the chance for Boasson Hagen. The Norwegian made a strong attack and only Van Avermaet was attentive enough to follow.

 

Boasson Hagen didn’t get any help from Van Avermaet and this allowed Sagan and Gaviria to join the duo. When the Norwegian finally stopped his effort, a bigger group gathered and it came to a standstill.

 

That’s when disaster struck for Gaviria. While riding in the perfect position for the sprint, the Colombian looked back and suddenly hit the ground. The crash created chaos and took several sprinters out of contention.

 

Jurgen Roelandts used the opportunity to launch a long sprint and he looked like he was going to win. Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) was well-placed but failed to make any in-roads.

 

Instead, it was Demare who suddenly came flying, passing Roelandts with impressive speed. Swift was on the Frenchman’s wheel and finished fast but ran out of metres, settling for a second place to improve on jis third place from 2014. Roelandts held Bouhanni off to take third while Van Avermaet completed the top 5, just ahead of Kristoff.

 

With Milan-Sanremo over, the WorldTour moves to Spain and Belgium for the Volta a Catalunya, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem which are all held next week. The next major event in Italy is Settimana Coppi e Bartali which starts on Thurday and runs until Sunday.

 

A classic course

The 107th edition of Milan-Sanrem was held on a very classic courset hat brought the riders over 291km from Milan to Sanremo. After a flat first section in the Po valley, the riders climbed the Passo del Turchino at the midpoint before descending to the coastal road. From there, they travelled along mainly flat roads to the finish, taking few small detours inlands to go up five climbs. First up were the Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta but the real challenges were the famous Cipressa and Poggio climbs. The former came just 21.5km from the finish while the summit of the latter was located just 5.4km from the finish on Via Roman in Sanremo. From there it was a technical descent and a short flat section to the line.

 

There was some drama as the race was hit by a landslide just after the Turchino Pass. However, the organizers made a quick decision to change the route and the riders did 9km on the motorway to get around the critical part of the road that was completely blocked by big rocks.

 

Eleven riders get clear

For the first time in three years there was no need for rain jackets when the riders gathered in Milan under a sunny sky to embark on the 291km to Sanremo. Moreno Hofland (LottoNL-Jumbo) had fallen ill and was absent.

 

As usual, the rest of the peloton started at a breathtaking pace, with most teams trying to get a rider in the early break. 11 riders managed to get clear after about 10km of racing but they had to fight very hard to get a significant gap. FDJ and Tinkoff chased, but after 15km of racing, the break started to have the upper hand. Three kilometres later they were 32 seconds ahead and finally the peloton gave up and thus the break was formed.

 

A big gap

After 20km of racing, Gediminas Bagdonas (Ag2r La Mondiale), Serghei Ţvetcov (androni-sidermec), Mirco Maestri (Bardiani-CSF), Jan Barta (Bora - Argon 18), Adrian Kurek (CCC Sprandi Polkowice), Roger Kluge (IAM Cycling ), Matteo Bono (Lampre - Merida), Samuele Conti (South East - Venezuela), Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL - Jumbo), Andrea Peron (Team Novo Nordisk) and Marco Coledan (Trek - Segafredo) were 1.57 ahead of the peloton that came to a complete standstill. At the 23km mark, the gap was 4.23, after 29km of racing it was 9.40, and it was 10.35 when Tinkoff finally increased the pace which was an impressive 47.1km/h in the first hour.

 

It was Katusha who started to reduce the gap that was down to 8.12 after 67km of racing. Manuele Boaro lend them a hand for Tinkoff, and the gap steadily dropped to 7.43 thirteen kilometers later. So did the average speed which was 43.7km/h after two hours.

 

Tinkoff and Katusha in control

Tinkoff and Katusha kept the lead relatively stable at 7-8 minutes, but after three hours at a speed of 42.2km/h gap, it had suddenly grown to more than 9 minutes. When Giorgio Cecchinel (Androni) left the race as the first rider after the first feed zone, it had dropped to 7.22.

 

The riders started to climb as they hit the bottom of the Turchino Pass where the peloton again increased the pace. At the top, the gap was reduced to 6.40. At the same time, Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) had to spend valuable energy to rejoin the peloton after a puncture.

 

More teams start to chase

The break hit the motorway with an advantage of 5.55 and when they returned to the original route, their course, they were only 4.52 ahead. The gap stabilized around the 5-minute mark as Dimension Data took over the pace-setting.

 

An alliance between the several teams formed and as the peloton entered the final 100km, Luis Mate (Cofidis), Jay Thomson (Dimension Data), Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx-QuickStep), Sam Bewley (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Boaro set the pace 5.05 behind the leaders. At this time, the average speed had dropped to 41.6km/h.

 

A second puncture for Cavendish

The quintet slowly reduced the gap to 4.35 ten kilometres later where Cavendish again had to work hard to rejoin the peloton after a puncture. At the same time, a big group of favourites took their final natural break of the day.

 

With 80km to go, the gap had dropped to 3.45 and this prompted Vandenbergh to briefly stop his work.

He was back on the front ten kilometres later where the fight for position started to intensify. The gap stabilized for a little while but as they approached the climb of Capo Mele, the gap had dropped to 3.15 with 60km to go. Meanwhile, Fabian Cancellara (Trek) rejoined the peloton after a mechanical.

 

Cannondale come to the fore

A crash involving Charles Planet (Novo Nordisk), Julien Vermote (Etixx-QuickStep), Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani) and Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM) created some chaos in the rear end of the peloton but all riders were quickly back on their bikes.

 

The hard-working domestiques were nearly swarmed as teams like Katusha and Astana lined out their troops near the front and the gap dropped quickly. It was down to 2.30 with 55km when Cannondale put Alan Marangoni and Kristijan Koren to work with Mate, Thomson, Boaro and Vandenbergh.

 

Zurlo crashes out of the race

Another crash ended the race for Federico Zurlo (Lampre-Merida) and also brought down Jan Bakelants, Axel Domont (Ag2r) and Tom-Jelte Slagter (Cannondale). Moments later, they hit Capo Mele where Koren did the first serious damage in the peloton by setting a fast pace. As a consequence, the gap was down to 1.40 with 50km to go.

 

Valerio Agnoli (Astana) had to rejoin the peloton after a mechanical while Lotto Soudal and Tinkoff lined up their trains on the front as they sprinted towards Capo Mele. As they started to climb, Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal) and Christopher Juul (Orica-GreenEDGE) worked on the front. Meanwhile, Bakelants and Slagter rejoined the peloton.

 

Tinkoff in control

On the Capo Cervo, Boaro, Juul and Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal) were on the front of the peloton but the escapees did well to stabilize the gap at 1.30. Boaro stayed on the front in the first part of the next flat section but it was his Tinkoff teammate Maciej Boadnar who led the peloton onto Capo Berta with 40km to go 1.10 behind the escapees.

 

Bodnar, Juul and Matteo Tosatto (Tinkoff) set the pace in the first part of the climb until Jempy Drucker (BMC) came to the fore for BMC, riding next to Bodnar and Tosatto with Greg Van Avermaet on his wheel. Meanwhile, many riders were dropped from the peloton and Kurek, Peron and Conti were dropped from the break.

 

The break splits up

At the top of the climb, the gap had dropped to 40 seconds and the riders who had been dropped from the break were swallowed up. Bodnar and Tosatto stayed on the front as they hit the flat run-in to Cipressa where the fight for position intensified even more.

 

Coledan and Tjallingii attacked from the break but were passed by Maestri and Barta. Bono, Tjallingii, Coledan and Kluge regained contact and it was a sextet that gathered in the front.

 

Demare and Matthews go down

At the same time, the peloton was marred by numerous crashes. The first tumble involved Marangoni and Marco Haller (Katusha) and Vermote went down again in a separate incident. However, the big crash came with 30km to go when Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE), Jos van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Danilo Wyss (BMC) had taken control. Matthews, Demare, Peter Kennaugh (Sky), Juul, Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE), Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data), Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff) were all involved.

 

Wyss and Tom Leezer (LottoNL-Jumbo) were still on the front and unaffected by the crash and it was a big sprint with Giant-Alpecin, BMC, LottoNL and Cofidis on the front. As they hit the Cipressa, the gap was down to just 15 seconds.

 

Cavendish is dropped

Kluge was dropped from the break but made it back while Michael Mørkøv (Katusha) kept the gap at 15 seconds. However, Astana wanted  a hard race and asked Agnoli to up the pace. As Eros Capecchi took over, the break was caught with 25km to go.

 

Riders were getting dropped and Kreuziger took over from Capecchi. That was too much for Cavendish who was the first top sprinter to lose contact.

 

Visconti and Stannard take off

With 23km to go, Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) and Ian Stannard (Sky) attacked and as Kreuziger didn’t react, they got a gap. Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale) tried to join the move and later Oss also tried alongside riders from Lotto Soudal and Androni. However, Katusha shut it down just as they reached the top.

 

Lotto Soudal led the peloton on the descent, 20 seconds behind the front duo. At the same time, Kennaugh and Demare rejoined the peloton.

 

Five riders get clear

At the bottom of the descent, Lotto Soudal had reduced the gap to 10 seconds and this opened the door for Oss and Fabio Sabatini (Etixx-QuickStep) to bridge across to the leaders. Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r) also joined the move which was 10 seconds ahead when Katusha started to chase with Sergey Lagutin.

 

The gap went out to 20 seconds before Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data) and Mørkøv joined forces with Lagutin. They slowly reduced the gap while the fight for position intensified. With 11km to go, Cummings, Kreuziger and a Dimension Data closed the final bit of the gap and it was all back together. Astana came to the fore with Boom before being passed by Marco Frapporti and Francesco Gavazzi (Androni) but it was FDJ who moved up with 10km to go to set Demare up for the win.

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