Five decisive moments in Matej Mohorič’s daring Poggio descent
From avoiding crashes and chasing motos to using a dropper post and warning off Pogačar, here are the keys to unlock Mohorič's San Remo masterpiece.
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Matej Mohorič delivered a masterclass in descending Saturday to win Milan-San Remo in stunning fashion.
The Bahrain-Victorious star took risks, forced others to chase him as he set the tone, and deservedly won the flowers down the Via Roma in one of the most daring and bombastic descents in recent San Remo history.
Much has been made about his decision to use a dropper seat post, a device that’s long been used in mountain biking but rarely deployed in road racing. The UCI confirmed Sunday the dropper posts have been legal for road racing since 2014, though it’s been rare to see them in competition.
There was much more to Mohorič’s spectacular descent than his decision to lower his seat post a few centimeters during the descent.
His bike-handling skills, his nose for following motorbikes, a lack of commitment from his chasers, and his tremendous recovery in a few near-misses deserve a closer look.
It wasn’t the dropper post alone that delivered Mohorič victory Saturday. The tech addition was simply a piece of a fast-moving, fluid puzzle on the short Poggio descent that added up to reconfirm Milan-San Remo as one of the most thrilling and unpredictable finales on the WorldTour calendar.
Here are five key moments that made the winning difference:
Surviving the Poggio and attacking into the first corner
Mohorič pounced early coming over the top of the Poggio, but simply being there was more than half the battle.
It was far from a guarantee that Mohorič, who was injured in the big crash at Strade Bianche, would have the legs to stay with the big accelerations from Tadej Pogačar and Wout van Aert. His Bahrain-Victorious teammates Damiano Caruso and Jan Tratnik did big pulls to keep him close on the uphill side of the Poggio.
That allowed Mohorič to be among the leading 10 wheels near the top of the Poggio, and his attack began near the crest of the climb, where he powered to the front to catch Pogačar’s and van Aert’s wheel over the top.
Mohorič absolutely wanted to be first into the first left-hander at 4.5km to go, and came around Pogačar and sliced into the corner with searing speed.
Mohorič: “We had a plan to do my best but to be conservative on the Poggio. I followed the best and I could come back on the top. After all the bad luck with the crash in Strade Bianche, I never stopped believing. I was really in a hurry to recover from that crash, in the end it paid off. The team did a great job keeping me close to the front. From there, I could make my attack.”
After looking back, Mohorič nearly crashes
Mohorič’s searing acceleration immediately fractured the chase group. Barely 100m after surging clear, Mohorič glanced under his left shoulder to see who was following his wheel. That movement caused his bike to drift left and into the gutter. Only Mohorič’s quick bunny-hop and excellent bike-handling skills at 80kph saved the day.
Soon after, Pogačar pulled off to avoid unnecessary risks, or perhaps he did not want to be the one chasing down his compatriot at that decisive moment of the race.
Mohorič already deployed his dropper post, and was powering down the Poggio with wild abandon. The gap opened to a few seconds, and that’s all Mohorič needed.
Pogačar: “He told me about his dropper post at the beginning of the race and warned me not to follow him on the descent of the Poggio. I told him he was crazy but praised him for coming up with the idea,” Pogačar told Cyclingnews. “When he passed me on the descent I saw he was taking so, so many risks. I was on the front and he passed me and he already had his seatpost lowered. He went into the left hairpin and he was drifting and even went off the road a bit. It was a bit crazy so I told myself not to follow him and let the other guys do some of the work to chase him.”
Mohorič chasing the motorbikes
There were more than dropper posts and derring-do to the Mohorič raid because the TV and photography motorbikes also played a role. Michael Matthews was among several riders and commentators who pointed out that Mohorič was following the wheels of the motorbikes on the descent.
Bicycles descend faster than motorbikes, and a few had to really move to stay ahead of the powering Mohorič.
San Remo kicked off the never-ending debate and the issue of motorbikes on the racecourse. Riders say they never purposely chase after the bikes, but everyone knows they do. Wind was definitely a factor at San Remo, and even 100 meters of protection can mean a second’s difference in a race as tightly wound as La Primavera.
Behind, there wasn’t much cooperation from the chasers. Only van Aert and van der Poel seemed committed to the chase. Everyone else was either on the limit or trying to save something for a sprint if Mohorič was reeled in. The problem was, Mohorič didn’t get the memo.
Matthews: “Mohorič went on the descent and I think whoever was on the wheel, let the wheel go and he got a gap and then the motorbikes dragged him away. For me it was more just about letting the big favorites fight it out and then see what I could do in the final.”
Mohorič averts disaster on final hairpin
It wasn’t clear exactly when Mohorič activated his drop post mechanism, but most likely near the top of the Poggio climb. After gapping the chasers, Mohorič accelerated out of each corner to widen his margin to a fistful of seconds.
After snaking through a series of narrow switchbacks with 3km to go, Mohorič was in pole position to win.
Ex-pro Robbie McEwen pointed out on the GCN+ broadcast how it appeared Mohorič would shift into his smaller chainring to accelerate out of the corners at a higher cadence before shifting back into the big ring to drive the wedge. If true, it’s an interesting tactic to play with cadence to build up additional pedal speed in the corners.
After opening a four-to-five-second gap, Mohorič was carrying so much speed in the final major hairpin at 2.6km that he almost over-cooked the corner.
Mohorič saving it down the Poggio. Says he used a mountain bike dropper post pic.twitter.com/yKFnVfCBt7
— the Inner Ring (@inrng) March 19, 2022
How much the dropper post made a decisive difference is up to debate. Mohorič is already one of the peloton’s best descenders. Some wondered if the slightly lower position on the bike might have created an unfamiliar sensation on the blinding, high-speed descent that it might have contributed to nearly misreading the final corner.
Mohorič said he trained with the dropper post, but race speed in real-time with the world’s best racers hot on your tail is a completely different dynamic.
It’s also worth pointing out the complete lack of padding, safety materials, or race marshals along most of the Poggio descent. Had Mohorič crashed heavily into what appears to be concrete planters, the damage could have been severe.
Again, Mohorič used his superb bike-handling skills to avert disaster. He soon kicked off the Poggio, and had 2.2km of the coast road before hitting the Via Roma toward the finish line.
Mohorič: “With the dropper post, I had a big, big advantage. I tested it many times in training. I knew exactly how to use it, and I knew it was very hard for whoever was behind me to keep up because it lowers your center of gravity a lot. It gives you more handling and more control of the bike. It’s probably not physically possible to go as fast without it.”
A near late-race chain-slip almost derailed everything
Just after passing under the red kite, TV cameras caught Mohorič looking down at his chain. It’s clear that his chain did not drop, but perhaps it was slipping or didn’t fully engage as he was shifting gears. He used his experience to manage the potential race-ending wobble.
From there, Mohorič time trialed to the finish line. A late surge from Anthony Turgis and the hard-charging chasers was not enough to bring him back.
Mohorič was ecstatic at the line and celebrated his victory. Mohorič had a plan that the team worked on for months ahead of time on how to attack down the Poggio, and he managed to pull it off. The 27-year-old averted disaster, defied the world’s best chasers, attacked with fearsome tenacity, and produced a race-winning descent off cycling’s shortest but among its most famous climbs.
It was also interesting to see how all of the other riders congratulated him on his spectacular winning attack. Even the best bike racers in the world were impressed.
Mohorič: “I almost lost it all in the last corner and I lost a little bit of time. It was on the limit. In the end, it was all worth it. The whole winter of analyzing, working on it, testing the bike and the equipment, I cannot say thank you enough to even a single member of our team, the mechanics, the suppliers, FSA. I am lost for words. We pulled it off, it’s incredible. This is the biggest victory of my career. The Tour is the Tour, but this was one was studied and planned. We had a plan in advance and we made it work 100 percent. That rarely happens in cycling.”