Milan – San Remo is one of the five monuments and one of the biggest one day races in the world. The race is notorious for its long length and short, punchy, iconic final climb, the Poggio. The 2020 edition of Milan – San Remo featured fair weather and lots of action.
20km to Go
We’ll pick up our analysis at 20km to go at the summit of the Cipressa. Daniel Oss of Bora-Hansgrohe looked to be navigating the field down the technical descent until his pace and risk taking increased to the point of dropping the field. He found himself with a 15 second advantage at the bottom of the climb, but would be required to hold that for another 9km until the start of the Poggio.
Even then, is it realistic to believe he could hold off the field on the biggest launchpad in cycling? The only reasonable justification for his move was that he could allow his teammates to hide in the field while other teams had to mobilize their forces earlier to pull him back. We specifically saw Deceuninck–Quick-Step and Groupama–FDJ towards the front burning their riders. Michelton-Scott made an appearance with three riders at the front only to disappear for the rest of the race soon after.
The Poggio: Milan – San Remo’s Final Climb
As the rest of the field swarmed like bees, Oss was caught at the bottom of the Poggio. The first attack on the climb was from Gianni Moscon of Team Ineos with Stybar (Deceuninck–Quick-Step) following right behind. Traditionally, if a decisive attack comes on the Poggio, the rider will attack further up the climb. The goal is to punch an attack and gain 10 seconds just as the summit crests. This allows the rider to recover from their attack on the downhill and attempt to hold of the charging field for the last 2km at the bottom.
Giulio Ciccone from Trek-Segafredo joined Moscon and Stybar to form an intimidating trio. So intimidating that they were quickly sucked in by Bora-Hansgrohe. Trek-Segafredo again attacked with Circus–Wanty Gobert’s Aimé De Gendt. The best part about this second attack is that De Gendt didn’t pull through. He just waited until the Trek rider burned himself out and then proceeded to attack and drop him; it’s cagey racing that’s guaranteed not to make you any friends.
Soon after, Julian Alaphilippe (DQS) put in a massive attack and only one rider could follow: Wout van Aert. This attack proved to be the decisive attack of Milan – San Remo 2020. The Jumbo Visma rider stayed on Alaphilippe’s wheel as best he could, only to find himself 5 seconds behind going over the top. Typically, if a rider wants to attack on the Poggio and stay away over the top, they have to take massive risks on the downhill into the finish. Alaphilippe attempted to push on the downhill, but his excitable racing style led him to some descending mistakes. Van Aert was able to claw back those few seconds and the leading duo found themselves at the bottom of the Poggio descent with a 7 second lead.
With regards to the chasers, it was frustrating to watch Formolo (UAE-Team Emirates) at the front of the chase group, working his hardest to chase back the two leaders. When a rider chases and pulls the rest of the field with them, they are always sacrificing their chances of winning. They end up just setting up another rider to because of their now tired legs. That’s why in these situations, a teammate without intentions of winning should be the one to chase. In this situation, Formolo’s team sprinter Gaviria had already been dropped. It was a poor tactical decision and Formolo should have worked on the uphill to try to get into the group with Alaphilippe and van Aert.
It was a thrilling final 2km as, initially, the duo appeared to be working well together. After a few pulls back and forth, Alaphilippe refused to pull through again, leaving van Aert in a delicate situation. “Do I pull Alaphilippe to the finish line only for him to beat me in the sprint? Or do I let the field catch us and ruin my chances of winning?” The field behind found themselves at a loss of chasers. All of the sprinters refused to pull as their races would be sacrificed. Team domestiques were hard to find given the demands of the race and the small peloton in the finale.
With the peloton bearing down on them, van Aert dragged Alaphilippe home. Alaphilippe launched his sprint at ~230m to go with the field some 10 bike lengths behind. To everyone’s surprise, van Aert clawed back Alaphilippe to win Milan – San Remo 2020 by a wheel length! An amazing and exciting finish, and it was the ultimate show of strength by van Aert to pull Alaphilippe into the last 250m only to show him how to sprint properly. A well deserved win by van Aert and now two big race wins for the Belgian in 2020 after also securing Strade Bianchi.
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