France’s Julian Alaphilippe on Saturday won a sprint finish to claim his first “Monument” one-day classic victory in the Milan-San Remo.
In-form Alaphilippe, won the opening spring classic of the season, to take up the mantle of compatriot Thibaut Pinot, who had won last year’s final race in the Tour of Lombardy.
The Deceuninck Quick-Step Floors rider finished ahead of a small group of riders, who had broken away near the end of the 291km race under the sunshine, for his seventh win of the season.
The 26-year-old went for the line with 600m remaining, before raising his arms in triumph after a narrow victory on the Via Roma in the Italian Riviera resort, with Belgian Oliver Naesen (AG2R AG2R La Mondiale) second and Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) in third. Three-time world champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia finished fourth with reigning world champion Alejandro Valverde crossing in seventh place and last year’s winner Vincenzo Nibali of Italy in eighth, after nearly seven hours in the saddle.
Alaphilippe has been in winning form this season, finishing first in the Strade Bianche in Tuscany and two stages of the Tirreno-Adriatico in the past few weeks.
He comes from the mountainous Auvergne region in central France but narrowly missed out in the 2017 race in San Remo, behind Kwiatkowski and Sagan.
However, since then, he has powered to two stage wins in last year’s Tour de France, where he claimed the top climber’s jersey, and won the Fleche Wallonne and Clasica San Sebastian.
All that was missing was one of cycling’s five “Monument” one-day classics, and he lived up to his status as pre-race favorite in a race that his Deceuninck Quick-Step team perfectly controlled.
“I was protected. The team had total confidence in me,” the French rider said. “In the sprint, all I was thinking about was not to make a mistake.”
In the sprint, Alaphilippe emerged from behind Slovenia’s Matej Mohoric before the last 200m.
“We made the race hard and I stayed focused. I followed Mohoric at 600m. I made no mistake,” Alaphilippe said. “It’s unbelievable.”
A breakaway group of 10 riders, representing second-division teams invited by the organizers, had opened the road right out of Milan. They held firm until after the area of the “Capi” — small hills going into the final hour of racing.
Italian Fausto Masnada had led for nearly 260km, before being caught on the Cipressa, the penultimate obstacle heading down toward the coast.
On the Poggio, the last climb, Alaphilippe’s teammates Zdenek Stybar and Philippe Gilbert dictated the pace before the Frenchman provoked a breakaway with Sagan, Alejandro Valverde, Kwiatkowski, Naesen, Wout Van Aert and Matteo Trentin.
The group crested the summit a handful of seconds ahead, but were joined by other riders in the descent and on toward the flat.
However, no one could break out alone on the streets of San Remo, despite an attempt by Italy’s Trentin, which was neutralized by Belgium’s Van Aert.
“Alaphilippe was untouchable today. He was the strongest on the Poggio,” Naesen said. “He launched the sprint from very far away with a headwind against very fast riders like Kwiatkowski, Sagan and Trentin. He’s for sure the rightful winner.”
When Matej Mohoric launched the sprint, I knew I had to take his wheel straight away. Had he taken 20m, it would have been game over. I capped it off the nicest way I could. It’s pure joy.” said Alaphilippe, after his 25th victory, and the most important of his career.
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