Vincenzo Nibali of Bahrain Merida added to his growing legend today with a victory for the ages in the 109th edition of Milano Sanremo. The Shark of the Straits accelerated away on the Poggio, the race’s final climb, as he does almost annually, only this time the peloton were an instant too slow in responding. Nibali got a gap of 11 seconds, held most of it down the technical descent to Sanremo, and won with a bike length or two to spare over the hard-charging peloton, led by Caleb Ewan of Michelton-Scott and former winner Arnaud Demare of FDJ.
The Song of the Italians could be heard joyfully ringing out in the streets of Sanremo as fans, officials and former riders in attendance celebrated the first Italian victory in twelve years. They were celebrating the country’s greatest cycling star of his generation, a rider who has won all three grand tours and now two of the five prestigious monuments of cycling. It’s a race that the Sicilian has dreamt of winning in the past, making the podium in 2012, and one he has hatched other plans to win.
But the race is not friendly to non-sprinters, and the last grand tour winner to add the race to his palmares was Laurent Fignon in 1989. [Gianni Bugno won the race in 1990, just months before winning the Giro, his only grand tour.] To win, a non-sprinter must power away from the peloton in hard-charging style, as many classics specialists have done. But if that’s not your style, if you are truly a mountain man, the race offers only one pathway to victory (apart from bizarre luck): attack on the Poggio, nail the descent, and hope for the best in the final few minutes. It’s a formula everyone is aware of, and if anyone forgot, Nibali has been there to remind people of it from time to time. He got clear of the peloton in 2012, but had Fabian Cancellara and Simon Gerrans for company, with the Australian taking the honors.
Today, he had nobody for company. Nibali launched his attack after Israel Cycling Academy’s Krists Neilands got separation about halfway up the Poggio. Nibali stormed past the Latvian and went over the top alone. Matteo Trentin, a threatening sprinter, made a counter-move before the summit and was hot on Nibali’s heels until the final 1500 meters, when the peloton swallowed him and his chances. From there, Nibali was alone to test his strength against the world. It didn’t look good as he had a mere seven seconds left in hand with a kilometer to go, but the chase, led by Quick Step, didn’t have enough power to reel in Nibali. The sprint took shape behind him but the veteran sat up in the final meters, knowing he had the win in hand, and crossed the line with his arms held high, and Ewan and Demare practically under his armpits.
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, 7:18:43
2 Caleb Ewan (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott
3 Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
4 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates
5 Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) BMC Racing Team
6 Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
7 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb
8 Magnus Cort (Den) Astana Pro Team
9 Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
10 Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo