Five things we learned from Milan-San Remo

Back to its classic route and the Milan-San Remo certainly didn't disappoint: who was good, who was bad and who ended up down right ugly?

John Degenkolb wrote his name into the Milan-San Remo history books on Sunday with a powerful sprint past Alexander Kristoff and Michael Matthews to win on the famous Via Roma.

The German came to the fore last season in the cobbled Classics, with a win in Ghent-Wevelgem and a second-place behind Niki Terpstra at Paris-Roubaix, and the Giant-Alpecin man heads into the cobbled classic season with great confidence.

At 293km in length, La Primavera had enough time to throw up a number of talking points, most of which came about over the race’s final climbs.

Crashes, attacks and sprints; this edition of the year’s first monument had it all and here are a few things we picked up from the race.

293km is a long way, even for a professional cyclist

A lot of point-to-point cycling races tend to take a pretty scenic route between the two places that are often not actually that far apart. If you look on a map, though, the riders do actually take a pretty direct route between Milan and the coastal town of San Remo.

It turns out that they’re actually just a bloody long way apart and pedalling between the two can get a little tiring.

LottoNL-Jumbo’s Moreno Hofland learned that vital lesson, according to the team’s official website, finding that when he stopped behind a crash on the Cipressa climb he found he had nothing left to give.

The LottoNL-Jumbo squad (Watson)

The LottoNL-Jumbo squad (Watson)

“I was held up by a crash on the Cipressa. When I wanted to get started again, I just couldn’t. All of a sudden, I was completely exhausted.

“Of course I’d rather finish in the first group, but this is something I can build on towards the future. Stamina comes with age. Until today, my longest race was 220 kilometres.”

His coach Erik Dekker insisted that it was not Hofland’s fault that he got dropped, and he certainly wasn’t the only one to do so. “He rode efficiently, was positioned just fine and ate well, but eventually, he ran out of power,” he said.

“Three hundred kilometres remains a challenge. The course here is supposedly flat, but 170 pro riders were dropped. That says a lot.”

So, next time you feel fatigue setting in around the 270km mark on one of your rides remember that you’re not alone.

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Vincenzo Nibali has a long way to go before the Tour de France

It would probably be fair to say that Vincenzo Nibali is not on form. A 45th-place finish in Milan-San Remo is nothing to be ashamed of, but the nature of his race could be a cause for some minor concern.

As the peloton sped up to Poggio – the race’s final climb – the 2014 Tour de France champion found himself slowly dropping off the back. He had some company, however, as famed climber Andre Greipel also found the pace a bit too much so deep into the race.

It was a far cry from his 2012 effort where he, Fabian Cancellara and eventual winner Simon Gerrans powered off the front on the Poggio descent, with the Italian claiming third place.

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Vincenzo Nibali (right) on his way to third place in 2012 (Yuzuru Sunada)

Vincenzo Nibali (right) on his way to third place in 2012 (Yuzuru Sunada)

It’s the latest double-digit finish in Nibali’s young season; he is yet to break into the top-15 in any race he’s enteredso far. But for the Italian it likely won’t be too large an issue.

In his build-up to his Tour de France victory last year he only managed one top-10 finish by the end of April, ramping up his efforts in the Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphiné in the run-up to the Tour.

Still, losing ground on a relatively shallow climb like the Poggio will surely not be good for Nibali’s psyche. With fewer racing days on his schedule for 2015, he’s not got long to turn it around before the Tour.

Cav needs to find components that work

Mark Cavendish made no secret of his desire to win Milan-San Remo for the second time in his career, but the Manxman was not in the mix at the finish.

Rolling over the line in 46th place, next to Greipel and Nibali, was definitely not what Cav had in mind for the race, but another mechanical problem proved his downfall again.

The stage two sprint at Tirreno-Adriatico saw Cavendish’s bike slip its chain as the 25-time Tour de France stage winner geared up for his final surge.

On Sunday, as the peloton charged up the Cipressa the problem occurred again, leaving Cavendish cursing his luck.

>>> Mechanical scuppers Mark Cavendish’s Milan-San Remo chances

“It didn’t just cost me a little bit, it crippled me,” he said. “Losing a chain with a K-and-a-half to go [to the top of the climb], you can’t close the gap there.”

After the incident at Tirreno, Etixx-Quick-Step promised to carry out a CSI-style investigation as to why the chain came off at such a crucial time, but Gil Grissom must have been a bit busy because they clearly didn’t get to the bottom of it.

Instead of a team-issue FSA chainring, Cav reportedly used an unmarked SRAM one, but it appears that didn’t make much difference.

With his season now gearing up for a battle with Marcel Kittel at the Tour de France, Cavendish will want his mechanics to come up with a solution as soon as possible.

The route is unforgiving, especially if you crash

As if riding for nearly 300km wasn’t bad enough, spare a few thoughts for those poor riders who crashed out of the race in the last 10km. A number of big names dropped out of the race on the Poggio, including world champion Michal Kwiatkowski.

The Pole hit the ground hard, by the look of his helmet in a tweet he sent after the race, showing some hefty scratches down the side of it.

Winner in 2013, Gerald Ciolek was less supportive of his helmet, hurling it hard at the ground after a crash ended his chances.

But Tinkoff-Saxo’s Chris Juul-Jensen suffered the most brutal blow of the day, with a head-first collision with a stone wall on the descent of the Capo Berta, leaving him with blood streaming from his eyebrow.

The Dane, and his terrible haircut, also tweeted his fans to confirm that he was suffering no ill-effects from his crash, but it looked pretty gnarly all the same.

The finish is back to its rightful place

Milan-San Remo race director Mauro Vegni admitted his flirtations with changing the classic race’s route in previous years were not great successes.

In an attempt to attract some of the Grand Tour contenders to the March race, organisers chucked in a climb of the Pompeiana in the final 40km, added to the Cipressa and Poggio.

But the chance to end the race on the historic Via Roma ended in a change of heart for Vegni, preferring in fact to take the race back to its roots and keeping it a challenge for the sprinters to contest.

And after Sunday’s race it’s hard to argue against that thinking. It turns out the Pompeiana added very little to the race when it was included and that without it the puncheurs in the pack were forced to work a little harder to get away.

Letting the race come down to a bunch sprint was not really an option for riders like Kwiatkowski, Cancellara, Geraint Thomas or Greg van Avermaet, meaning they had to race intelligently to try and drop the fast men.

Geraint Thomas leads in the 2015 Milan-San Remo (Watson)

Geraint Thomas leads in the 2015 Milan-San Remo (Watson)

The attacking led to Kwiatkowski crashing out, while Van Avermaet and Thomas tried their luck off the front with varying degrees of success.

The relentless pace in the final stages saw a number of sprinters dropped, but those who remained were more than worthy contenders and in the end Degenkolb showed his pedigree and stole the show.

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