Milano-Sanremo 2014 Post-race Impressions: Kristoff Delivers

KristoffKBKTakeaways from La Classicissima di Primavera 2014

Milano-Sanremo 2014 is in the books! The VeloHuman race preview noted that whoever won this race would truly have to earn his glory, and after 300 rain-soaked kilometers, I’d say he did. The biggest takeaway from this race is obviously that Alexander Kristoff is capable of pulling off the big win. If you’ve watched many bike races in the last year, you probably already knew that the Katusha sprinter is the real deal. If you read this particular site, you’re definitely aware: in the end-of-2013 thoughts published in November, VH said, “Speaking of quick hardmen, Alexander Kristoff gets a paragraph of his own: he built on a strong 2012 (in which he took an Olympic Bronze Medal) with top 10s in three Monument Classics and his first WorldTour level win in the Tour de Suisse (besting Peter Sagan on a tough day that ended in a sprint). He has established himself as a serious contender for hardman sprinter’s races going forward.” I’d say he’s made good on that promise. The number of major news outlets calling him a total surprise was a bit shocking to me. He was among the top 15 or so with the bookmakers, he was one of my Top 10 for this race, and every other preview site I read named his name, so he didn’t exactly come from nowhere. Still, that big win was something that seemed to constantly elude him. His Tour de Suisse stage win last year was his very first WorldTour win. With Sunday’s performance, we can be a bit more confident that Kristoff really does have that killer instinct required to pull of the victory (it wasn’t close at the line). He’s got to be viewed as a favorite in sprint finishes over the next few weeks of classics-riding. Luca Paolini also deserves some serious praise for the job he did keeping the pace high and guiding Kristoff over the obstacles on the way to the finish in Sanremo. Katusha, known for their climbers, has done a commendable job prepping for the spring classics, and I think we can look forward to more from them in the near future.

The other big takeaway, or at least, the second biggest news item, is that Peter Sagan didn’t win. Not only did he not win, he wasn’t even in the top 5, rolling in 10th. Granted, he sort of gave up at the very end of the sprint after it was clear that he was a bit too far behind and boxed in as well, but no matter how you slice it, he didn’t look like he had it in him to make the podium. It’s a disappointment for him, but I am not going to read too much into it just yet. While Sagan was the favorite for the race, he was by no means a lock. The removal of the big climbs at the end put a dent in his chances at dropping other sprinters, and the length of the race was a bit longer than the sorts of contests Sagan has proven he can win. His form may also be a tad below what it was in last year’s race. All this to say: while I think it will be a blow to morale for Sagan to come away from the race without a win or even a podium spot, I will still have him among the favorites at E3, Gent-Wevelgem, and the Tour of Flanders (which may be his true goal this season), races that may provide more launching pads for victory, and fewer miles to wear him down.

Speaking of all those races that Fabian Cancellara will be another favorite in: Spartacus nabbed a surprising second place at MSR by being the second best sprinter after 300 kilometers. Despite the presence of riders who tend to be faster to the line, Cancellara’s otherworldly endurance left him enough in the tank to land himself in the runner-up position. He seemed pretty frustrated after the race, but I’m not really sure there could have been a better outcome. I was quite impressed that he even managed a 2nd place: with no Pompeiana climb, it was always going to be very hard for Cancellara to get away. I’d say his outlook is pretty good for the next few weeks.

Ben Swift was something of a revelation in this race, nabbing 3rd. He’s had some high-level road wins in his young career, but injury has gotten in the way of his pursuit of victory in the past. In a race that one might have expected Team Sky to be riding for Edvald Boasson Hagen, Swift shone as the best rider in black and blue on the day, and he delivered for Sky with a podium-level sprint at the end of a very long day at the office. At the moment he seems scheduled to ride Pais Vasco, which may offer a few opportunities for him to put his versatile skillset on display. Boasson Hagen, meanwhile, seems to struggle in this race, so I am not sure what to make of his fading on Sunday in terms of judging his form leading into the cobbled classics.

John Degenkolb will be left wondering what might have been, after a late puncture ruined his shot at glory. Fortunately, we will get to see him again soon on the cobbles. Mark Cavendish will be disappointed that he didn’t get the win despite being involved in the bunch sprint at the end, but as Kristoff pointed out after the race, a sprint after 300 km is quite different from one after 200. Andre Greipel stated he had both cramps and mechanical troubles at the end of the race. Gerald Ciolek got the rain and the bunch sprint he probably wanted, but couldn’t manage more than 9th (though, I’d rate that as a moderate success, as I didn’t even expect that). Juan Jose Lobato took up JJ Rojas’s mantle, nabbing 4th for Movistar. It’s a good result for him, and he’s off to a pretty good year with some strong finishes so far. Sacha Modolo was another of the VeloHuman Top 10, and he finished right around where I expected. Like anyone who came to that finish line after Kristoff, he’ll probably be disappointed, but a top 10 in MSR is a pretty good sign of ability going forward. Zdenek Stybar pulled a fine 7th place while also working for Cav, as he continues to make his case for inclusion among the favorites in the spring races for serious hardmen. With more climbing and more cobbles to come, he’s going to be mentioned up there with the Cancellaras, Sagans, and Boonens as a contender when the peloton takes on the big classics in Northern Europe.

Lastly, a chapeau to Vincenzo Nibali. I don’t think there was any way he could win this race, given the lack of significant inclines, but he tried and made the race exciting with a solo attack and divebomb descent. Hopefully, next year’s route will be known further in advance, giving the top riders time to decide on whether to attend based on what the road will actually look like, and whether it will really suit their strengths.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the VeloHuman Volta a Catalunya 2014 preview! The race got underway this morning, with Luka Mezgec winning a sprint to the line, and the next few stages look like they’ll be pretty action-packed. I will be live-tweeting analysis on Twitter @VeloHuman. And of course, VeloHuman’s E3 Harelbeke preview is coming soon, so be sure to check back in a few days for more!

-Dane Cash

Photo by brassynn.

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