With just over 55km to go in Alassio, the peloton’s finally in the sunshine and drying out. Cyling kit is being thrown everywhere with gay abandon. The spectators have yellow flares in Imperia, usually the preserve of Valentino Rossi fans at MotoGP races. The break is now just 30 seconds ahead. It’s going to be over for them all too soon. I finish Sudoku diabolico in Corriere della Sera and the boys still haven’t reached the Poggio. Riders at the back of the bunch are untangling themselves from bits of kit.
Thankfully the sun is still shining in Sanremo as cameramen and photographers start heading to the finish. It’s all over for the break as the Groupama-FDJ peloton streams past and the quartet find themselves at the back with Marcel Kittel who was riding his first (and possibly last) MSR. Peloton now moving into fourth gear with riders being spat out the back, favourites to the front, as it heads up the Cipressa.
Riders top the Cipressa and head down its winding, technical curves. It’s always best to lead rather than follow on descents. Peter Sagan’s sucking the Shark’s (Vincenzo Nibali) wheel. Teams are now all lining out and trying to get to the front of a very big bunch before they tackle the final climb, the Poggio.
With just 10km to go, Mark Cavendish who was riding with a broken rib hits some traffic furniture and goes down – how unlucky is he? That looked nasty, I hope he’s okay. Like most fans, I hate to see riders fall. Meanwhile, the front of the peloton hits the Poggio. A couple of riders leap off front but soon blow up. Nibali goes with 7 km remaining with another rider and quickly builds an advantage. He swoops downhill, drops his break-mate, as Sagan’s team gives chase. More fallers. Italian commentators getting uber-excited but his Nibs still has final 2km to go on the flat, where he could easily get caught.
Nibali, quite probably the best descender in the peloton, gambled that the others wouldn’t work together soon enough to drag him back and he was right. Finally, it’s his MSR. Gosh, that was an exciting ride. Press room breaks out into cheers and applause. Bravissimo to the Shark, proper old school ride and victory. Sanremo was delighted to have an Italian winner, the first one since Pippo Pozzato in 2006. Plus, it’s the first by a Grand Tour winner since Sean Kelly. Nibs looked really emotional on the podium and joined in with singing the Italian national anthem.
It hasn’t really sunk in yet, because it is all so unexpected. It was incredible. When the Latvian champion Neilands attacked, he asked me to collaborate. The team was riding for Colbrelli who was in great shape, but Neilands was strong and when I saw we had opened a 20 second gap, I decided to continue that attack. At the top of the Poggio, where the gradient is a bit higher, I accelerated and then pressed on. I believed victory was within my reach in the final part of the race when I saw the empty road in front of me. Even so, the final 2km were interminable.
Before the race I had two key points in mind: the Cipressa, if there was a breakaway group of 6, 7 or even 9, I’d try to get into it, but without working. Then there was the Poggio, the most dangerous place, where an attack by Kwiatkowski, Van Avermaet or Sagan was likely. I was well positioned in the group behind [team-mate] Mohoric, waiting for someone to move, and to react to it, and that is what happened. In the final 50m, I knew I’d won. I could see the finish line ahead of me, and I made sure I enjoyed the victory.
When I set my targets at the start of each season, it’s important to me to target races that really count. I felt I was behind in my preparation for Sanremo, but during Tirreno Adriatico my form grew and I was only lacking in the final 300m. I went home and rested, but it was only during the race that I realised I had come to this Milano-Sanremo in great condition. I finished last season by winning Il Lombardia, and started this season with winning Milano Sanremo. One day races are special for me, but that also makes things difficult for me in my preparation for the Grand Tours. Perhaps Milano Sanremo was the race I least expected to win because it doesn’t really suit me. In the past I’ve attacked on the Poggio and made the podium, but I’ve always been beaten by a faster finisher than me. That said, today I won and I am very happy.
Happy too, we head home.