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Only yesterday French champion Laurent Jalabert looked back on his illustrious career and told VeloNews that of all of his dozens of victories, 1995 Milano-Sanremo in 1995 goes down as his greatest. And just today, defending champion Julian Alaphilippe said very much the same thing.
Just a year ago the Frenchman stormed to victory on the Via Roma in his third attempt to win the race known as La Primavera. And after finishing third behind Michal Kwiatkowski and Peter Sagan in 2017, Alaphilippe rode the perfect race in 2019. After forcing the selection on the legendary Poggio climb, he then defeated a small bunch in the final sprint to the line.
“It was my third time in Milano-Sanremo and what I had learned from the past participations was that it’s a long race and you have to remain calm for the final, which is always explosive. Things became hectic at the front as early as the Cipressa, but I was protected at all times by my incredible team, who made sure I was in the best position at the start of the Poggio,” Alaphilippe said Friday via his Deceuninck-Quick-Step team.
“The race was full gas and very difficult to control after the downhill. Everybody was looking at each other, waiting for the sprint and turning the final into a very tactical one. Victory is never as simple as it looks from the outside and I knew from the 2017 edition that you have to be smart, stay calm and do a good effort at the right moment as the adrenaline is going up.”
Alaphilippe’s perfectly-timed sprint saw him power away from his nearest challenger, Belgium’s Oliver Naesen as well as Kwiatkowski, with sufficient time to raise his arms together in victory.
Only weeks after winning Strade Bianche, Alaphilippe’s Sanremo victory confirmed the rise to the top for the 26-year-old puncher. And he confirmed his status at the top with his stunning Tour de France that included no less than 14 days in the yellow jersey.
Looking back however, Alaphilippe insists that Sanremo remains his most memorable victory. “To take my first Monument at Milano-Sanremo – the longest and maybe most difficult to read race of the year – is something I will never forget. On that day, I turned my dream into reality, so I can say it’s my most beautiful victory to date.”
But Sanremo is like that. While the majestic races that skirts along the Italian Riviera may be nearly 300 kilometers long, there is something ephemeral about it, and victory can be evasive for even the greatest of champions. For those few that manage to unlock the mystery of La Primavera, it is simply unforgettable.