By Jonny Long
Jasper Stuyven took the biggest win of his career so far with victory at Milan - San Remo 2021, having attacked with 2km to go and holding off the reduced bunch sprint in the closing metres.
The Belgian quickly opened up a gap before Søren Kragh Andersen bridged across to the Trek-Segafredo rider as the group of favourites hesitated behind.
As Mathieu van der Poel opened up his sprint in the finishing straight, Stuyven had enough of a head start to make it across the finish line first, just ahead of Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) managed fourth, just ahead of Van der Poel, Michael Matthews had to settle for sixth as world champion Julian Alaphilippe and Tom Pidcock also finished in the front group.
Alaphilippe had attacked on the Poggio with 6.5km to go but was unable to dislodge his main rivals, including Caleb Ewan, who then thought about kicking on before remembering he'd be one of the fastest finishers in the sprint.
Van Aert and Pidcock led on the technical descent, alert to all attacks on the run-in, but Stuyven soon came soaring past as the road flattened out, quickly opening up a decent gap as the others hesitated behind, not wanting to pick up the chase and drag their opponents back into contention.
Stuyven sat on Kragh Andersen's wheel leading into the final kilometre, and with a fast finish himself had enough to keep the likes of Van Aert, Ewan and Van der Poel at bay.
How it happened
With the race televised in full for the first time ever, it was an early start for cycling fans still hungry for racing action as the season kicks into gear. As Italy re-enters coronavirus lockdown, it was thought that broadcasting the full 300km would persuade those living along the route to remain inside, while also providing some distraction to others bored of staring at the four walls of their living room, instead served up 250km of pedestrian racing to while away the hours before a blistering finale.
At around 9.30am local time the riders set off for the rollout, something which we'll surely never be treated to watching live ever again, and within 5km a breakaway had set off up the road, getting sponsors bang for their buck.
The eight riders were Nicola Conci (Trek-Segafredo), Mathias Norsgaard (Movistar), Andrea Peron, the ever-willing Charles Planet (Team Novo Nordisk) and Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè), Filippo Tagliani and Mattia Viel (Androni-Sidermec), and the wonderfully-named Taco Van der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert).
As the gap yawned out to over seven minutes, Tim Declerq put himself on the front of the peloton for Deceuninck - Quick-Step, really the only rider in the Belgian squad with no hope of taking the win later in the day but invaluable in the way he willingly and relentlessly flogs himself on the bow of the bunch.
As the teams of Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel leant a rider to assist with marshalling duties, the Dutchman came into view, resplendent in white shorts and leg warmers, giving fans something to talk and grimace at as the kilometres ticked past.
After 100km of racing the break was five and a half minutes up the road, and at the halfway stage 50km later it had dropped another minute, the peloton starting to put their game faces on, readying themselves for the race to come.
It was still the same three riders rotating on the front of the bunch, Declercq, Paul Martens (Jumbo-Visma) and Senne Leysen (Alpecin-Fenix), the gap coming down well under four minutes with 100km remaining.
Ineos' Michał Kwiatkowski then suffered a mechanical as Michael Matthews (BikeExchange) also needed pacing back up to the bunch, Julian Alaphilippe also heading back to the team car momentarily.
The gap was down to nearly two minutes with 60km remaining, Deceuninck - Quick-Step and Bora-Hansgrohe moving up, the break starting to shed members as they went up the Capo Mele and the team cars being taken out of the gap behind as the race started to come back together.
Van der Hoorn, Conci, Jorgensen and Tonelli were the escapees left up the road after the initial whittling down process as the peloton turned up the pace behind, before Sam Bennett suffered a puncture with 40km to go, getting back on terms with the bunch 7km later.
Norsgaard was the next to be dropped from the breakaway as the peloton swooped around the bends up to the start of the Cipressa. Taco van der Hoorn attacked his final two breakaway companions on the incline, putting in one last dig to get the last little bit of air time.
Jumbo-Visma's Sam Oomen then upped the pace on the climb with 25km to go, looking to keep the race together for the moment in aid of defending champion Van Aert.
Soon they'd brought Tonelli to heel and then their former team-mate Van der Hoorn, the Dutchman having spent a total of 270km off the front.
Alberto Bettiol was one of the more notable riders dispensed with due to the Jumbo-Visma pace, Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) also soon dropped.
An Israel Start-Up Nation rider was then pushed off the side of the road as they squeezed along a narrow section, staying upright as Ineos came to the front, Luke Rowe shepherding Tom Pidcock. Van der Poel was the next to fight to stay upright as the bunch crammed onto the right-hand side, Kristoff then joining Gaviria off the back.
Rowe continued to lead the peloton onto the descent, looking to stay out of trouble, and accompanied by another couple of team-mates as well as Pidcock.
Van der Poel was then spotted squirting water on Bennett's front disc brake as he came past at the back of a thinned-down front split in the bunch, Groupama-FDJ's Kevin Geniets and Arnaud Démare tucked in behind the Ineos train in their similar national champion's jerseys.
The larger second group were in view just behind, slowly getting back on, but the bunch much reduced before the Poggio.
Luke Rowe then pulled off the front with 12km to go, 3km from the start of the Poggio, handing over to Filippo Ganna before Bora-Hansgrohe took over, the Italian pushing the pace to maintain his place at the front.
Ineos were still on the front coming onto the Poggio, delivering Pidcock safely through the leading up to the climb, Caleb Ewan also near the front
Van der Poel started moving himself up from 20th wheel as Viviani cracked behind, Alaphilippe lurking dangerously near the front, Ewan tucked in the middle of the five Ineos riders on the front. Ganna was still leading with 7.5km to go,
An Israel Start-Up Nation rider then crashed at the side of the road, unclipping but remaining upright as they bumped into a wall as the peloton snaked uphill.
Ganna's effort was over as Dylan van Baarle took over, Ewan tucked in behind, Kwiatkowski behind him, the pace high and so far neutralising any attacks.
Alaphilippe then attacked with 6.5km to go, Wout van Aert straight on his wheel, Pidcock following as Max Schachmann came over the top. Mathieu van der Poel also quickly made his way up, as did Søren Kragh Andersen, around 10 riders making this front move including Ewan.
Ewan then put in a little dig, thinking about making a move, then taking Van Aert's wheel as he came through to the front.
Pidcock then came around Van Aert to lead on the front on the descent, looking to press the issue, Ewan still locked onto the Belgian's wheel.
Small gaps were opening up on the descent, Pidcock still leading, Van der Poel and Alaphilippe just behind the leading trio, Pidcock and Alaphilippe looking around and assessing who was still present.
Jasper Stuyven then made his move with 2km to go, Pidcock trying to chase initially, before the group hesitated.
Schachmann then began to chase, Van Avermaet on his wheel, but a decent gap between them and Stuyven already.
Kragh Andersen and Pidcock countered, Van Aert following, and Kragh Andersen soon caught Stuyven, Van Aert leading the chase behind, followed by Ewan. Trentin then came through, Alaphilippe following him, as Stuyven sat on Kragh Andersen's wheel.
Van der Poel then launched his sprint, Van Aert and Ewan also unfurling their efforts, but it was too little too late as Stuyven held on, Ewan and Van Aert left to pick up the remaining two podium spots.
Milan - San Remo 2021
1. Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo, 6-38-06
2. Caleb Ewan (Aus) Lotto-Soudal
3. Wout van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma
4. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
5. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix
6. Michael Matthews (Aus) BikeExchange
7. Alex Aranburu (Esp) Astana - Premier Tech
8. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious
9. Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team DSM
10. Anthony Turgis (Fra) Total Direct Energie, all at same time
15. Tom Pidcock (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers
16. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck - Quick-Step
Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races. I'm 6'0", 26 years old, have a strong hairline and have an adequate amount of savings for someone my age. I'm very single at the minute so if you know anyone, hit me up.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab, reporting about students evacuating their bowels on nightclub dancefloors and consecrating their love on lecture hall floors. I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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