SANREMO, Italy (VN) — World champion Peter Sagan is happy for his former teammate Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) taking the solo win in Milano-Sanremo, saying only that only he showed courage Saturday.
Team Bora-Hansgrohe controlled the 294-kilometer Italian monument well, but its star rider Sagan could not profit from it. He followed an attack on the Poggio, chased on the descent, and sprinted to sixth with Nibali ahead on Via Roma already celebrating.
“In the end, I’m very happy for Vincenzo because only he showed the balls,” Sagan said. “He took a nice victory.”
Sagan already placed second twice in 2013 and in 2017 at the Italian race. He said before the race that he did not care about winning or losing, but that he “preferred to make a show.” The show instead was Nibali’s.
The 33-year-old Italian from Messina, Sicily, already counts wins in all three grand tours, including the 2014 Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia twice. He came close before in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and won Lombardia two times. Now, he counts Milano-Sanremo.
The victory came in the form of an attack at 6.4 kilometers out. Nibali launched on the Poggio while the sprinters were passing time ahead of Via Roma and when bullets should have been fired by others like Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), and last year’s winner Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky).
In 2017, Sagan lit the race on fire with a move at 6.3 kilometers to race. Eventual winner Kwiatkowski and Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) joined him and rode free to the finish line on Via Roma. Sagan this year, however, gave the feeling you have when your favorite rock band plays a ballad – something was not right.
After a shower, Sagan stepped back off the black Team Bora-Hansgrohe bus to loud screaming fans pushing for autographs.
“First of all, it was a quiet race,” Sagan said. “It was bad weather from the start and in the end, the weather got better. “In this race, the decisive point is the Poggio. Vincenzo surprised everybody and nobody answered his attack. I just wanted to see the different riders’ reaction. But there was no reaction…”
“We fell asleep a little bit there,” Kwiatkowski said over at the Team Sky bus. “Pretty much the whole bunch, just let him go and he gained 15 to 20 seconds”
Arnaud Démare (FDJ), the 2016 winner and third Saturday, said, “I was biding my time, trusting it would come back together.”
Nibali followed an initial attack by Latvian champion Krists Neilands (Israel Cycling Academy) and before the top of the Poggio, at 5.4 kilometers to go, he decided to take the race into his own hands.
Sagan watched the others. He chased after an attack from Kwiatkowski and then led the group down Poggio when Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) shot away.
“I was not chasing on the Poggio, I just wanted to keep going. After on the bottom of the descent, I wanted to see if someone was going to pull to the finish because there was still a chance to catch him. But in the end, Vincenzo was strong and finished first,” Sagan explained.
“I knew that if I went solo and chased we’d get him, but the problem was that nobody reacted, they were all expecting me, so I said: OK. I told myself: Vincenzo wins or we’ll catch him. We didn’t catch and that’s OK.”
Sagan ended his spring campaign in 2017 without a win in the big classics. His 2018 campaign now turns to the E3 Harelbeke on Friday.