Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) had made his ambitions for 2021 very clear, and has now quickly found his way to a first Monument victory, this Saturday, on the roads of Milano-Sanremo. The 28-year-old Belgian star narrowly edged the sprinters, led by Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and Wout van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma) on the Via Roma, after an intelligent attack inside the final 3km.
"I think I'm capable of winning Flanders or Roubaix," Stuyven had said ahead of the season. He can now turn his attention to these other iconic races with the stature of a Monument winner.
“There are three very strong guys, everyone knows about it,” Stuyven acknowledged as many eyes were turned on Van Aert, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) and Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix). “It didn’t mean we were not going to race for the win. We had a plan to go for it, to be up there, and I felt really good all day. In the finale, it went well. There were a lot of fast guys so I knew I had to try all or nothing. I prefer to go all-in and come out with empty hands or the biggest win of my career, rather than finish 10th.”
Strong pace from the start
With 299km to go to Sanremo, the 172 starters were off to an early start, riding away from Milano’s Piazza Castello at 9:40am. Seven riders quickly showed their attacking aspirations. Mattia Viel (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani CSF Faizane’), Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), Mathias Norsgaard (Movistar Team), Andrea Peron and Charles Planet (Team Novo Nordisk), and Nicola Conci (Trek-Segafredo) were the first riders out of the bunch, with a lead of more than 2 minutes already after only 8km of racing.
Filippo Tagliani (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) joined the leading group at kilometre 15 and the gap kept increasing with his support, up to 7’35’’ at kilometre 30. The hottest favourites reacted with the help of their teammates. Alaphilippe’s Deceuninck - Quick-Step, Van Aert’s Team Jumbo-Visma and Van der Poel’s Alpecin-Fenix led the bunch as the race headed for the coast at a strong pace: averaging 42.75km/h over the first four hours of racing.
The peloton briefly split in the downhill from the Colle di Giovo but came back together as the race entered the final 100km with a gap from the early attackers of around three minutes. Tensions rose in the peloton and Nacer Bouhanni (Team Arkéa-Samsic) crashed in the streets of Savona but the French sprinter, 4th at Milano-Sanremo in 2016, quickly got back on his bike.
Mattia Viel was dropped from the breakaway just ahead of the Capo Mele (1.8km at 3.6%), a little more than 50km from the finish. The early attackers started to battle it out and only four riders remained at the front with a lead down to 1’20’’: Alessandro Tonelli, Taco van der Hoorn, Mathias Norsgaard and Nicola Conci. They maintained their lead on the way up the Capo Cervo (2.5km at 4.1%) while the main contenders were fighting for the front positions in the bunch.
Tonelli unsuccessfully tried to go solo in the Capo Berta (3km at 4.3%) while Sam Bennett (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) suffered a mechanical incident. Søren Kragh Andersen's Team DSM took the lead of the bunch inside the last 40km before Greg Van Avermaet's AG2R Citroën Team took over with 30km to go. The battle for positioning was full on, bringing the gap down to 20’’ at the bottom of the Cipressa ascent (5.6km at 4.1%), with 27km remaining.
Van der Horn soon dropped his breakaway companion but he couldn't hold off the peloton led by Sam Oomen for Team Jumbo-Visma. Twenty-four kilometres from the finish, the last of the early attackers had been caught. Outsiders such as Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-Nippo) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) got dropped on the climb but the main contenders stuck together at the front, with Ineos Grenadiers taking the front positions for the downhill of the Cipressa.
The peloton split again on the way to the Poggio; some 40 riders left at the front with 15km to go. About 60 more joined them only 3km ahead of the key ascent (3.7km at 3.7%). Showtime!
Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) set a brutal pace on the first part of the climb, until his teammate Dylan van Baarle took the reins with 7km remaining, stretching the bunch in a long line with Caleb Ewan on his wheel. Alaphilippe opened the race 1km away from the summit, Van Aert immediately followed him and accelerated again before the summit, followed directly by Ewan and around 10 more riders for the run-in to Sanremo.
Jasper Stuyven attacked at the bottom of the downhill. Behind him, his rivals looked at each other for a moment. Kragh Andersen joined him with 1km to go, and the rest of the chasers went all out in the final hundreds of metres – but it was too late to catch Stuyven.