‘Caleb Ewan outclassed Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert in Milan-San Remo’
Milan-San Remo is tactically the easiest race of the year because you know where to race ahead, but it’s the hardest classic to win. Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert and Julian Alaphilippe once again experienced this cycling wisdom on the Via Roma in San Remo. On the Riviera of Flowers, it is split second when you have to make choices that determine the profit, or nine times out of ten, the loss. That makes the Primavera despite a long and always boring run-up, it is still a worthy monument.
‘Which of the big three?’ Headlines Het Nieuwsblad on their sports section on Saturday morning. Actually, world champion Alaphilippe is already hanging on the elastic with the two superstars from the Low Countries. There are hardly any scenarios in which Van der Poel or Van Aert cannot win.
On the last part of the Poggio, both have the explosiveness to create a gap. Even the wind is favorable to their attack; partly from the side, but largely in the back on the decisive part. Thanks to their cyclocross technique, they can throw themselves like no other into the dizzying descent of the Poggio. And when it comes to a sprint, few can handle the speed of ‘MVDP’ and ‘WVA’.
There is no room in almost all previews for possible other contenders. Yes, they can have their say why the ‘big three’ are unbeatable. They don’t get to say anything about their own chances. After all, nobody believes in their opportunities. It may even be called unique that the Flemish ‘gazets’ do not allow their winning compatriot Jasper Stuyven any space on their pages in the run-up to ‘La Classicissima’. Not necessary because only one of the three can win.
Cycling, and certainly Milan-San Remo, is not mathematics. No matter how strong you are, you will never really get a grip on this match. The Italian coastal town of San Remo is known to the general public for its famous casino. It is known that you have to take a gamble in the cycling classic. Or as winner Stuyven said immediately afterwards: “I knew I had to play all or nothing.”
Nothing happens on the Cipressa. The match cannot be put in a fold on the Poggio. Just like last year, Van der Poel is not well positioned, which means that he needs extra forces to connect with the expected attack by Alaphilippe, to which Van Aert reacts immediately.
The fact that the ‘big three’ cannot get away on the Poggio is remarkable, but the most striking is that Caleb Ewan seems to have the most surplus on the climb. He completed only two journeys in the Tirreno, after which he gave up on his way to Gualdo Tadino. As a result, nobody counts him as one of the favorites for the first real classic of the season.
Ewan grows above himself and even seems to be preparing to attack close to the church of the Madonna della Guardia on top of the illustrious executioner. Until the fast man of Lotto-Soudal realizes that he has the fastest sprint of everyone in his legs. The ‘big three’, nailed to his wheel, have also seen this feint, and of course his performance is awe-inspiring.
The Australian sprinter drives unprecedentedly strong uphill and is continuously among the first five in the descent. His presence is the determining factor in this 112e edition of Milan-San Remo. After all, who will go to the finish with the fastest sprinter of the current peloton? Which immediately introduces another question: Who should chase someone when someone goes on the offensive?
That attacker is Jasper Stuyven. About the same place at the end of the descent of the Poggio where Hennie Kuiper in 1985 rushed past the escaped Teun van Vliet and Silvano Ricco, Stuyen makes his attack. An eye for the right moment, confident, strong and above all cold-blooded. Even when Søren Kragh Andersen joins him, he knows how to let the Dane do most of the work in a refined way. It delivers a beautiful cat and mouse game between the attackers and chasers, as we saw in the last decades when Andrei Tchmil, Filippo Pozzato, Fabian Cancellara and Simon Gerrans made their winning attack in the streets of San Remo.
Actually, that fits with the course of the classic Trek-Segafredo team lately. The team led by Steven de Jongh and Kim Andersen realizes that they do not have the big favorites, but know how to perfectly anticipate the course of the leading role that ‘great men’ carry. Mads Pedersen managed to win Gent-Wevelgem last year and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne this year, while Stuyven also won intelligent and very strong Omloop Het Nieuwsblad twelve months ago.
Stuyven’s racing intelligence also comes to the fore when he dares to wait until 120 meters before the finish before starting the sprint. And just as ahead of the up-and-coming group of which… Caleb Ewan wins the sprint for second place.
It is a very disappointing second place for Ewan. Where he already sprinted to this ungrateful place behind the escaped Vincenzo Nibali in 2018, this place of honor hurts much more. This time the ‘Aussie’ was the strongest in the game. But Milan-San Remo is just like poker. Even if you have the winning card in your hand, that does not mean that all chips will fall your way. And until it sounds ‘rien ne va plus’, you can never count yourself rich.