Team Sky rode with nearly a full complement of riders heading into the Cipressa and Poggio climbs and Michal Kwiatkowski, attacking with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), finished the work. Luke Rowe, one of the authors of Sky’s second monument win, says it was a “pretty perfect” ride.
The 26-year-old Polish star followed with Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) when Sagan attacked at 900 metres ahead of the Poggio’s summit. The move came off the heels of Sky’s work.
“It was pretty perfect,” Rowe told Cycling Weekly.
Kwiatkowski’s Italian win follows Wout Poels’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège victory last spring in Belgium.
The black and blue team was more evident on Saturday than in Liège perhaps. After the Cipressa, they still rode with seven of their eight men. When the route turned right off the coast to start the Poggio, as it had with the Cipressa, Sky massed at the front.
Danny Van Poppel, Salvatore Puccio, Ian Stannard, Lukasz Wisniowski, Gianni Moscon and Rowe rode a high tempo up to the Poggio village. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) came to the front, but the weight was on Sky’s shoulders for sprinter Elia Viviani and Kwiatkowski.
“I led it into the Poggio, on the Cipressa was towards the front, but I didn’t feel top, so I just took them into the front for the Poggio, and that gives you bit of sliding room for a guy like Elia, if he’s top five, he can slip back to 15th or 20th,” added Rowe.
“It was perfect for the team, we kept our head down and raced smart, we put our nose into the wind two times, bottom of Poggio and bottom of Cipressa. It was a faultless effort from the whole team. You wouldn’t find someone better to finish it off [in Kwiatkowski]. And he did it.”
Kwiatkowski already won races like the Amstel Gold Race and the 2014 World Championships. In his favour, he had Viviani behind when the trio raced free over and down the Poggio climb. Alaphilippe had Fernando Gaviria. Sagan lacked an excuse and worked the most towards the Via Roma finish in San Remo.
“The plan was a two-pronged attack, and you can kind of play off of each other then. Kwiato, even on the Poggio, was saying, ‘What should we do?’ And Elia was saying over the radio, ‘If someone goes, just follow, but don’t attack,’ which is exactly what Kwiato did being the selfless team-mate that he is,” Rowe said.
“He stuck to the plan even though he could’ve attacked first. So he just had to follow and we had Elia as backup behind and it worked out incredibly for Kwiato.”
The 26-year-old will race the País Vasco stage race and then the Ardennes Classics. His win, however, bodes well for the group led by Stannard and Rowe going into the cobbled Classics.
It also comes after former Sky rider Josh Edmondson admitted last week to injecting vitamins and using painkiller Tramadol when he raced with Team Sky.
Sky and British Cycling is also under increased scrutiny from the UK parliament’s Select Committee and UK Anti-Doping for other issues.
“I think we are happy where we are,” Rowe explained.
“As a team it’s a nice time to get a win as well with all the bulls**t that’s been going around. So it’s nice for the team, not that the morale’s down, but it keeps us pumped.”
Sky will line up in the E3 Harelbeke on Friday and Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday, and continue with the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.