‘Milan-San Remo is not a lottery if someone can win it seven times’

Fernando Gaviria believes he can win La Primavera after Tirreno-Adriatico stage win

Fernando Gaviria before stage six of Tirreno-Adriatico
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

Italians know San Remo for its casino and say that Milan-San Remo, the famous one-day race to the seaside town, is a lottery. Colombian Fernando Gaviria (Quick Step Floors), winner of today's Tirreno-Adriatico stage in Civitanova Marche ahead of Peter Sagan, disagrees.

Gaviria, in his debut last year at the age of just 21, already appeared able to win the Italian Monument, but crashed in the last 300 metre, of the 293km race, with Frenchman Arnaud Démare (FDJ) winning.

"Last year, I was much younger," Gaviria said after stage six of Tirreno-Adriatico.

"Every now and then, I thought, 'I can't do this. It's 300 kilometres.' That changed when I had a race number on my back. I was overcome by emotions.

"They say Milan-San Remo is a lottery, but if someone won it seven times then that's not true. You've got to be good, arrive well on the Poggio and not crash in the sprint."

Cycling great Eddy Merckx won Milan-San Remo on seven occasions in the 1960s and 1970s. German Erik Zabel won four times in 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2001.

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Gariria, Sagan and others will race Milan-San Remo this coming Saturday, March 18.

Gaviria and his Quick-Step Floors team showed that racing is more pure chance today in Italy's Le Marche Region, playing out a clever tactical game to neutralise world champion and Milan-San Remo favourite Peter Sagan.

To draw him out it sent former Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra on the attack over the climb above Civitanova Marche.

Sagan reacted, and after Terpstra's group faded back into the chase group, he was faced with a sprint against Gaviria. The double effort, and perhaps the confidence from two previous stage wins, may have cost him.

"It was similar finish to Milan-San Remo, but the Poggio is after 280 kilometres and with much more energy involved. We tried to play an extra card with Niki's attack, it made Sagan waste too much energy," Gaviria said.

"To race against a strong rider like Sagan is truly hard. He's that strong that he could attack on the Poggio and arrive solo in San Remo."

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Sagan blew away the Grand Tour contenders yesterday in an uphill finish to Fermo. It gave him his second win in the seven-day stage race that ends tomorrow with a time trial.

Afterwards, Italian television criticised his interview responses, which often come in short and sarcastic bursts. Rai Television commentator Silvio Martinello said, "Sagan needs to work on his post-race performance."

Sagan arrived to the mixed zone to speak with the press today, moments after losing to Gaviria, with the critics still on his mind.

"No stupid questions," he said.

A series of short answers followed the journalists' questions.

"You could see right that away you lost?" "Yes. I saw it."

"What was your take on the sprint?" "Nothing to say. Gaviria was stronger, that's it."

"Did you use too much energy chasing Terpstra?" "No."

"Now can we say that Gaviria is the favourite for Milan-San Remo?" "You can say what you want. In my opinion, there are many favourites. San Remo has always been strange and in the last five to six years, it seems as though someone different won who wasn't the favourite!"

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Gaviria, after beating Mark Cavendish twice in the 2015 Tour de San Luis in Argentina, debuted with Quick-Step late in 2015 and won a stage in the Tour of Britain.

In 2016, he crashed in the Milan-San Remo finale, but won races throughout the year. In French classic Paris-Tours, he sprinted long to win ahead of Démare.

"I've seen many good riders, but he is probably the best out of Boasson Hagen, Cav, Sagan..." Quick-Step Sports Director Brian Holm said when asked about the best neo-pro cyclists.

"With Milan-San Remo last year, he would've been quite close to that win if he didn't crash. In Paris-Tours, too, you don't see a sprint win like that too often. Just kicking off with with 500 or 600 metres to go. 'Wow,' I thought, 'he really has something extra!'"

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Gregor Brown

Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.