For a sprinter Sanremo is always going to be a big target and so it was for Degenkolb and his sprint-focused Giant-Alpecin team. Last year he missed the final action by puncturing on the Poggio but this year there was no stopping him. With a perfectly timed sprint he just edged out Kristoff who,despite sterling work by energizer-bunny helper Luca Paolini both on the Poggio and in the final kilometers, had to launch his sprint just a little bit too early. Launching from a good position in the small peloton consisting almost entirely of fast sprinters that came to the finish Degenkolb finished a perfectly executed race.
The peloton had started early in a cold and wet Milano with the standard early break getting an early big lead. Eleven riders including Maarten Tjallingi, Jan Barta and Stefano Pirazzi stayed away as far the Capi climbs where the last of their advantage rapidly dwindled away. At this point the pace in the peloton was at ludicrous speed approaching the decisive Cipressa where attacks where expected from climbers like Nibali. But once on the Cipressa when Team Sky started turning the screws to thin out the peloton in an effort to drop some of the heavier and faster sprinters Degenkolb stayed well placed at the front and no huge attacks came . At the opposite end sat 2014 winner Kristoff clearly struggling to stay in contact, seemingly not doing to well. Pressure continued with Geraint Thomas and Daniel Oss taking off taking a 30 second lead and catching the final remnants of the morning breakaway as they powered on towards the Poggio. Katusha sensing the need to control the race for their Norwegian captain organized the the pursuit and on the bottom part of the Poggio Paolini took the front to set a pace that suited Kristoff who was now comfortably back in the front.
None of the expected early attacks came and it was only on the latter part that BMC's Gilbert and Van Avermaet took turns pinging off the front, getting joined ultimately by the usual suspects, Stybar, Cancellara, Kwiatkowski and some of the other pre-race favorites. No major separation occurred though and starting the descent it was clear that a larger group would make the finale. Upsetting the balance was a bad crash that took out Gilbert, Kwiatkowski and Ciolek , the latter probably the one who lost the most there while the other two had probably already seen their best chances for a win come and go at that point.
With the short distance from the descent to the finish line there was little time for games. Paolini took the front again and kept the pace high and discouraged any attempts to attack. Had Katusha had a second rider there as support then Kristoff might have managed a repeat win but he was forced to launch his sprint just slightly too soon as it turned out. We have seen him win a few of these sprints from the front before this year but this was just one bridge too far, Degenkolb was simply too fast and too well positioned. Sagan tried on the outside but didn't quite have the explosiveness he would have needed and could only manage a (by his standards) disappointing fourth.
Through a combination of strong defensive riding on the Poggio and perhaps some bad luck for the attackers the old/new course produced the sprint finish many were expecting. The big sprinters missing the finale were Cavendish and Greipel, both disappearing somewhere along the way on the Poggio. For Etixx it was a minor disaster with both their other cards crashing out and they will go into the Flandrian classics looking for revenge.The big push on the Cipressa by Sky helped shape the race and from that moment there was really never any let-up in the action. The aim was probably to set up Swift for a sprint against a battered field of opponents but he too dropped off mysteriously somewhere between the Poggio descent and the finish. Instead it created the perfect conditions for the Degenkolb who thrives there somewhere in the borderland between harman classics-riders and pure sprinters. A first Monument win for him and it certainly looks as if there may be more to come, perhaps already in April if he continues riding as smart as he did today.
|10.||MTN||Edvald Boasson Hagen|