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Launching a perfectly timed sprint, Degenkolb narrowly managed to pass defending champion Kristoff to take his first monument win in Milan-Sanremo; Matthews completed the podium

Photo: Sirotti

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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JOHN DEGENKOLB

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MICHAEL MATTHEWS

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MILANO - SANREMO

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TEAM SUNWEB

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22.03.2015 @ 17:45 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) made up for his huge disappointment at last year’s Milan-Sanremo when he took the biggest win of his career in the 2015 edition of the Italian monument. Timing his sprint from the 30-rider group perfectly, he just managed to pass defending champion Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) while Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) narrowly held off Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) in the fight for the final podium spot.

 

12 months ago John Degenkolb experienced what he described as the worst moment of his career when he punctured out of the lead group in Milan-Sanremo at the bottom of the crucial Poggio climb. Later that year he went on to win Gent-Wevelgem to slightly make up for the disappointment but today was the day for the big revenge for the German when he lined up for the 2015 edition of the Italian monument.

 

This time there was no one stopping the strong German who did everything right in the 293km race which is usually about saving energy for one big sprint in the finale. Degenkolb did that perfectly and finally beat Alexander Kristoff and Michael Matthews in a sprint from a 30-rider group to finally take that elusive first monument victory.

 

While Tinkoff-Saxo, Katusha and Trek did most of the chase work behind the early break, Giant-Alpecin hid in the peloton and Degenkolb flew a bit under the radar until the peloton hit the Cipressa climb. Here the German looked very comfortable in the front end of the group while many sprinters were suffering at the back.

 

Degenkolb was still in a great position when the peloton hit the bottom of the Poggio with 9km to go. At this point, however, a dangerous situation had been created as Daniel Oss (BMC) and Geraint Thomas (Sky) had attacked in the flat section in between the two climbs and the pair at one point enjoyed a 30-second advantage.

 

Marco Haller, Luca Paolini and Kristoff led the peloton onto the climb, 17 seconds behind the front duo, and when Haller had swung out, it was Paolini who hit the front. The Italian did an amazing job to control the pace for his Norwegian captain perfectly and he prevented riders from making any attacks.

 

However, the pace was still pretty fast as Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) all lost contact on the lower slopes of the climb. Meanwhile, the front duo did well to maintain a 15-second advantage.

 

Halfway up the climb, Thomas launched a big attack and he easily distanced Oss. The Brit did a great job to maintain a 15-second advantage while Oss was caught 1km from the top.

 

That’s when the attacking started and it was Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) who launched the first move. However, Fabio Felline (Trek) easily shut it down and instead, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) took off.

 

The Belgian got an immediate gap while Felline, Peter Sagan and Matthew formed a chase trio a little further back. Van Avermaet caught Thomas just as they crested the summit, with the three chasers following just metres behind but as Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) had gone into chase mode, the peloton had almost brought everything back together.

 

Thomas and Van Avermaet rode fast on the descent while a crash took Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Stybar, Michal Kwiatkowski (both Etixx-QuickStep) and Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka) out of contention. As they hit the flat coastal road, however, the group had come back together and the pace briefly went down.

 

Thomas looked back to realize that Ben Swift was in a great position and so he started to ride on the front. Meanwhile, Paolini brought Kristoff into position and when the Welshman swung out just before the flamme rouge, the veteran hit the front.

 

While the sprinters were fighting for Kristoff’s wheel, Paolini made his lead-out but he swung off a bit too early. Hitting the front, Kristoff briefly hesitated before launching a very long sprint.

 

The impressive Norwegian looked destined to take a repeat win as Niccolo Bonifazio (Lampre-Merida) who had been on his wheel was started to fade. However, Degenkolb still had something left in the tank and timed his sprint from fourth position perfectly. He just managed to pass Kristoff to take the biggest win of his career while Matthews narrowly edged out Sagan in the battle for third.

 

The classics circus now moves to Belgium for the Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday while the WorldTour continues tomorrow when the Volta a Catalunya starts. The next major Italian race is Settimana Coppi e Bartali which starts on Thursday.

 

A classic course

The 106th Milan-Sanremo was held on a very traditional courset hat brought the riders over 293km from the start in the centre of Milan to the finish in Sanremo. After a flat start, the riders went up the famous Passo del Turchino at the midpoint before they hit the flat coastal road. In the finale, they went up the small Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta before they hit the two landmark climbs Cipressa and Poggio. The latter summited just 5.5km from the finish which had been moved back to its traditional site on Via Roma for the first time since 2007.

 

The riders took the start under rainy conditions. Unfortunately, Martijn Verschoor (Novo Nordisk) never got the chance to test himself in the first classic of the year as the effects of a crash last weekend made him a non-starter.

 

An 11-rider break

At kilometre 0, four riders made an attack but they were quickly brought back. Instead, Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18), Sebastian Molano (Colombia), Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL-Jumbo), and Andrea Peron (Novo Nordisk) attacked at the 5km mark and while they started to build an advantage, Marco Frapporti (Androni), Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani), Adrian Kurek (CCC), Matteo Bono (Lampre-Merida) and Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka) took off in pursuit.

 

As the gap had reached 46 seconds, Tiziano Dall’Antonia (Androni) and Julien Berard (Ag2r) were the next riders to give it a go. The peloton was content with the situation and while they slowed down, the three front groups merged to form an 11-rider breakaway that already had an advantage of 1.50 after 15 minutes of racing.

 

Katusha take control

The peloton was in no hurry and after 30 minutes of racing, the gap had reached 9.54. This was the signal for Katusha to hit the front and the Russian team started to stabilize the gap at around 10 minutes.

 

Katusha accelerated slightly to bring the gap down to 8 minutes where Gatis Smukulis kept it stable for a while. He got some assistance from Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Eugenio Alafaci (Trek) after more than 50km of racing and at the 80km mark, they had reduced their deficit to 7.34.

 

A stable gap

After two hours of racing, the riders had averaged an impressive 44.4kph as they were assisted by a solid tailwind. Meanwhile, the peloton continued to ride a bit faster and when Pauwels won the sprint in Novi Ligue, the gap was only 6.56.

 

The gap stayed at around 7 minutes for a long time but when the riders approached the Passo del Turchino, it again started to come down. At the 134km mark, it was 6.20 and when the peloton crested the summit of the biggest climb of the race, it had been brought down to 5.20.

 

Katusha, Trek and Tinkoff-Saxo set the pace

Katusha, Trek and Tinkoff-Saxo were taking most of the responsibility and they continued to gain time of the descent. As they reached the coastal road, the escapees were only 5 minutes ahead.

 

A crash in the peloton brought Ben King (Cannondale) and Chad Haga (Giant-Alpecin) down and the former was forced to abandon while the latter managed to rejoin the group. It didn’t slow down the peloton which had brought the gap down to 4.47 with 135km to go. In Arenzano after 4 hours of racing, it was only 4.19.

 

Vandenbergh starts to chase

The front group reacted to the faster pace and while Smukulis, Alafaci and Boaro continued to ride on the front, they managed to extend their advantage to 5 minutes. It stayed around that mark for a while at a point when the rain stopped and the peloton started to prepare for the finale.

 

With 75km to go, Stijn Vandenbergh started to chase for Etixx-QuickStep and as Alafaci and Boaro drifted backwards, it was the Belgian and Smukulis who worked hard to reduce the gap. With 55km to go, it was only 3.10 and it was less than 3 minutes when they hit the Capo Mele.

 

Molano gets dropped

Tinkoff-Saxo again hit the front and it was Boaro who set the pace on the climb. Vandenbergh went back to work on the descent while a small crash brought Jacopo Guarnieri (Katusha) down.

 

As the break hit the Capo Cervo, Molano dropped out of the lead group and the fight for position in the main group was now intense. Marcel Sieberg hit the front for Lotto Soudal but it was again Boaro who set the pace up the ascent.

 

The break splits up

As the riders again hit the flat roads, the gap was down to less than 2 minutes and it was a big fight for position as they approached Capo Berta. Adriano Malori and Alex Dowsett led the group onto the climb 1.30 behind the escapees.

 

Pauwels attacked from the lead group and he was joined by Bono, Pirazzi, Berard and Dall’Antonia. The latter was quickly dropped and as Pirazzi accelerated, Berard and Pauwels both lost contact too.

 

Sky trio get clear

Sergey Lagutin (Katusha) upped the pace in the peloton before Julian Arredondo (Trek) took over. Meanwhile, Berard and Pauwels managed to rejoin the front group on the descent.

 

Luke Rowe moved to the front for Sky just before the top and as two separate crashes happened on the wet roads – one of them involving Salvatore Puccio (Sky) in fourth position – the Brit and his teammates Thomas and Swift suddenly had a gap. The Sky trio decided to continue their attack and they picked up most of the remnants of the early break.

 

Bono gets clear

Bono attacked out of the lead group while Pirazzi dropped back to the chasers. At this point, Giant-Alpecin and Orica-GreenEDGE had hit the front of the peloton as they approached the Cipressa climb.

 

Lotto Soudal took over and they led the peloton onto the lower slopes of the climb. As they disappeared, the pace went down and this allowed Silvan Dillier (BMC) and Cristiano Salerno (Bora-Argon 18) to attack.

 

Demare crashes out of contention

The pair quickly joined the chase group that had passed Pauwels and Berard and was down to just Thomas and Swift. Suddenly, Stybar and Van Avermaet also came out and they quickly bridged across to that group.

 

Dillier went to the front to set the pace but just as they caught Bono, it all came back together. At this point, a crash took Arnaud Demare (FDJ) and Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r) out of contention.

 

Nordhaug hits the front

Lars Petter Nordhaug went to the front for Sky and he set a brutal pace that saw Kristof, Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar), Borut Bozic (Astana) and Cavendish to drop to the rear end of the group, with Bozic and Lobato ultimately losing contact. Alessandro De Marchi (BMC) launched the next attack and when he was brought back, it was Arredondo who rode on the front.

 

Thomas and Oss both took turns on the front before Nathan Haas (Cannondale) led the group over the top. Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) and Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) did the work on the descent but when they hit the flat roads, the pace went down.

 

Thomas and Oss make their move

This opened the door for Oss to attack and he was quickly joined by Thomas. An IAM and a Trek rider tried to join the move but as Orica-GreenEDGE started to chase, they were brought back.

 

The gap was 30 seconds with 12km to go as Jose Serpa (Lampre-Merida) was the only rider working in the peloton. That’s when Katusha and Trek decided to combine forces and it was Haller, Giacomo Nizzolo and Gregory Rast (both Trek) who did the work to reduce the gap to 15 seconds. Borut Bozic (Astana) took a short turn on the front before Katusha took over, leading the peloton onto the climb and starting the exciting finale.

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