Three kilometers before the summit of the Cipressa climb at Milano-Sanremo Sunday, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) decided it was time to make his move.
The Italian launched ahead of the peloton and began his assault on the riders in the breakaway. He finally caught Marc de Maar (UnitedHealthcare) and Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin) on the climb’s subsequent descent, only to blow past them during his aggressive downhill effort.
There was just one problem: Nibali didn’t have anyone with him.
“I was hoping that someone would come with me because it was always going to be really hard to get to the finish alone,” he said. “So be it, I had to go for it alone, but it was very hard.”
As it turned out, Nibali’s attempt to win Sanremo ended with just under 10 kilometers remaining in the 294km race. After he was captured, Nibali quickly found himself off the back of the front group and eventually finished 44th, 3:15 behind winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha). Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) was second and Ben Swift (Sky) took third.
Nibali’s sport director Giuseppe Martinelli said afterward that someone should have followed Nibali. It is bike racing, after all.
“I think cycling is changing and people are only riding for places now, they’re not riding to win,” Martinelli said. “I think that not responding to an attack from Vincenzo, people who have finished second and third without winning Milan-Sanremo, and haven’t won it again this year even though they have the legs to do so, it means that they don’t understand very much.
“If a rider like Vincenzo attacks then it should be a starting point for more attacking. If you want to ride for a sprint, then OK, but a lot of riders were riding for a placing instead of the win. But I’m really happy that Kristoff won today.”
Nibali’s move on the Cipressa was not a surprise, given his climbing and descending skills. It was seen as a perfect spot for him to shoot forward — especially given the fact that organizers removed the Pompeiana climb later in the race because of road closures. The Cipressa was really the only place he could put some time on the field.
If others would have followed his lead and joined him, it could have led to a much different outcome to the race.
Nibali said Peter Sagan (Cannondale) told him he would like to attack on the Cipressa. Others said the same thing.
“But when I went myself, I saw that nobody was following me of the riders who wanted to make the race hard on the Cipressa,” Nibali said. “I had to continue alone. I accelerated a bit over the top but I knew it would be hard to manage the situation because the guys behind were accelerating. That’s how it turned out, with Trek especially chasing.”
Nibali didn’t know why his attack went unchallenged. Were everyone’s legs drained from riding in the cold, rain, and hail all morning, or were they simply lacking the desire to give it a go?
“Maybe it was a lack of courage, a lack of legs or maybe because of the cold, I wouldn’t know,” he said. “There were a lot of sprinters still there on the Poggio, like [Mark] Cavendish. I don’t know what happened behind. The word in the bunch was to try and make Sanremo a lot more difficult in the finale because there wasn’t either Le Manie or the Pompeiana [climbs].
“In any case, I think I did a good race. It would have been pointless for me to wait for the sprint. Maybe if I’d known it would be like that, I could have waited for the Poggio but it was very difficult. I was waiting for an ally and I turned around a few times to see if anyone was coming but niente.”
With more climbing planned for next year’s race, perhaps 2015 will be Nibali’s year.