Leading up to the race, Milano-Torino produced a fair bit of interest especially for a UCI ProSeries race, the new second tier classification of road cycling. Last year’s race was won by Mike Woods of EF Education First on a short 4.9km climb that averaged 9.1%. Mike said himself that he prefers short steep climbs and showed us that he knew how to throw down. This year’s race was decidedly more flat, and I mean FLAT. Of course, our natural reaction is to assume that the day would be for the sprinters and so it was. After wrangling in all but one member of the breakaway group, who would be caught soon after, there was a crash towards the front of the peloton at 7.8km to go. Our analysis picks up from there.
Looking at the major sprinters who would contest the finish:
- Caleb Ewan with Lotto-Soudal
- Peter Sagan with Bora-Hansgrohe
- Arnaud Démare with Groupama-FDJ
- Sam Bennett with Deceuninck–Quick-Step
The crash was close to the front of the race. It was a result of movement following some road furniture and a touch of shoulders. The result for the race was a reduced front group of some 40 riders strung out in a long line. Lotto-Soudal was on the front with 6km to go with only two lead out men.
Generally, following a crash, it’s a good idea to keep the pace high. This keeps the front group away and prevent any sprinters caught behind the crash from getting back in contention. Not only that, with the field strung out, even a sprinter towards the back of the front group will need to use significant energy to get back into the top ten wheels for a shot at the win. The idea was right, but the execution was off. Lotto-Soudal found themselves burned through their lead-out by 3km to go.
Caleb Ewan conceded position as Bora-Hansgrohe took up the mantle with a three man lead-out. With the field still strung out, Ewan and Sagan were in good tactical positions to conserve energy. Sam Bennett also found himself up towards the front. He was sat in behind his lone lead-out man, the New Zealand national champion Shane Archibold.
1km to Go
While good positioning is important, at 1.2km to go, Sagan and Bennett found themselves without lead-out men as Ewan hid behind a lone teammate. At this point, a four person train of Groupama-FDJ riders surged to the front and took control of the race. The first lead-out man pulled off at 900m to go, the next at 600m, and coming around the last corner at 350m to go, Peter Sagan started his sprint from ambitiously far out. Ewan was able to react, but the freshness of Démare’s legs, having been escorted to the front, provided him with the edge to blast across the finish line with a bike length lead to secure the win in Milano-Torino.
This finish was quite interesting because of the tactics forced by the crash. Lotto-Soudal found themselves at the front of a strung out front group. They were forced to push the pace to ensure Ewan could maintain a good position in the top 10 riders. Bora-Hansgrohe then took up the mantle. They too needed to maintain the pace for Sagan to stay in the top 10.
With Sam Bennett having his lone lead-out man burnt through, Groupama-FDJ found themselves with an advantage. Their entire lead-out team was fresh, having sat in the wheels while other teams pulled them along. Démare was placed at the front of the race with 300m to go while spending minimal energy to get there and that made all the difference.
As a sprinter, when you find yourself a few riders back, you have to start your sprint early. This allows you to make up the bike lengths to the front rider. You can also use the opportunity to try to catch them by surprise. Because Sagan found himself further back in the finale, he tried to use his momentum through the corner to gain an advantage.
The 350m to the finish line proved to be too far. Démare’s fresh legs from his good lead-out paid off. This race showed the value of having teammates in the last couple kilometers, especially when your rivals find themselves alone. A noteworthy minor placing was Wout Van Aert, recent winner of Strade Bianchi (analysis here), taking third place in the sprint.
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