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French delight: Arnaud Démare wins Milan-San Remo

Arnaud Demare (France/FDJ) came back from getting caught up in a crash to take the biggest win of his career at Saturday’s Milan-San Remo, the first Monument of the season. It’s the first time a French rider has won La Primavera in 21-years.

An 11-man breakaway formed early under clear blue skies and established a 10:45 gap to the peloton after 45-km. All the wildcard teams were represented in the move. Soon word came that a landslide had blocked the route near Arezano around Genova. The organizers quickly rerouted a 9-km trip up the autostrada after the Turchino climb. The alternate route went smoothly.

The autostrada dispatched, the race had 125-km to go and the escapees’ gap was down to 4:30, with an average speed of 41.6-km/h. The break now had the Adriatic Sea on its left. The three little Capo climbs started with 52-km to go, with the longest, Capo Berta, at 39-km remaining. Tinkoff and Dimension Data were at the forefront of the chase, with Etixx, Cofidis and Orica-GreenEdge contributing.

By the first Capo, the fugitives’ lead was only 2:00. The peloton was getting nervous in anticipation of the Cipressa, where attacks always flare. At 27-km remaining, the Cipressa is 5.6-km in length and 4.1%. Tinkoff and BMC whipped along the pace leading to the climb. The riders had been on the road for almost six-and-a-half hours.

Crashes were marring the progress of the peloton, and a wreck near the front delayed one of the race favourites, Michael Matthews (Australia/Orica-GreenEdge), and Démare. Katusha led the peloton onto the Cipressa and when Astana took over the last of the break fragments surrendered before the peak. Mark Cavendish (Great Britain/Dimension Data) fell away.

Finally, an attack came from Giovanni Visconti (Italy/Movistar) near the Cipressa’s crest. Ian Stannard (Great Britain/Sky) went with him. Katusha and BMC went back to the front of the peloton to lead it down the steep descent with Visconti and Stannard 15-seconds ahead. At the 17-km to go mark three others bridged to the move.

Only the famed Poggio remained–3.7-km of 3.7% and a maximum grade of 8%. Dimension Data grabbed the reins and the escape came to heel with 11-km to go. The positioning before the foot of the Poggio was vicious. Sky appeared at the front.

It was a steady pace on the Poggio, playing into the hands of the sprinters. First Andrea Fedi, a Southeast rider, roared up the road, but a handful of powerful riders overwhelmed him. Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland/Sky) took a gap and led over the peak. As the riders snaked between the greenhouses, Vincenzo Nibali (Italy/Astana) powered the chase.

With 3-km to go, Kwiatkowski had a 5-second lead. A small chase group dithered. Finally, Fabian Cancellara’s surge brought back the Pole. Edvand Boasson Hagen (Norway/Dimension Data) led under the red kite on Via Roma with Tirreno-Adriatico champion Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium/BMC) on his wheel. Young Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria (Etixx-QuickStep) crashed and both Cancellara and Sagan had to call on all their formidable bike-handling skills to avoid the young Colombian.

Sky’s Ben Swift (Great Britain) looked like he had the best position in the final 300-metres, but Démare came from far back with real power to overtake him. Perhaps the runner-up Brit’s gears slipped in the crucial moment.

Démare and his team were over the moon. It’s a career-making result for the 2011 U23 world champion.

2016 Milan-San Remo
1) Arnaud Démare (France/FDJ) 6:54:45
2) Ben Swift (Great Britain/Sky) s.t.
3) Jurgen Roelandts (Belgium/Lotto-Soudal) s.t.
121) Hugo Houle (Canada/AG2R) +9:25