They say you have one chance to win Milano-Sanremo. The season’s longest race is so intense and so tightly bound, there’s time for one roll of the dice, and that’s it.
After coming over the top of the Poggio on Saturday, Jasper Stuyven looked around, and didn’t like what he saw. Caleb Ewan, Wout van Aert and a host of fast finishers were sizing each other up.
The big Belgian rolled the dice, and jumped with just over 2km to go just as the bunch hesitated. He got a gap, and his bet paid off with the biggest win of his career.
“Already on the top, I decided I would try to attack, all-or-nothing, rather than go to the line and finish fifth or 10th place,” Stuyven said. “It was the hardest last two kilometers of my career.”
The brawny, 6-foot-1 Belgian played giant-killer Saturday, beating back the “big 3” of Julian Alaphilippe, Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel.
Once the bunch roared off the Poggio, Stuyven had already made up his mind to jump early. Stuyven dared to challenge the script, and was rewarded mightily for it.
“They are not unbeatable, no one is unbeatable, and that is the right mentality,” Stuyven said. “There is still a bike race. You cannot go with the idea to race for fourth. They are the strongest riders in the world in basically every course, but I think it’s nice that I showed today if you believe in it, you can achieve nice things.”
🎥 The incredible final km of the 2021 Milano-Sanremo presented by @eolo_it. Anything can happen, all the way to the last metre!
— Milano Sanremo (@Milano_Sanremo) March 20, 2021
Stuyven’s surprise attack only reconfirmed that Milano-Sanremo almost always delivers an expected finale. The 299km race slowly unwinds heading south from Milano, but things finally ramp up along the Ligurian coast.
The pre-race favorites seemed neutralized by a strong tailwind and a relatively big group that came over the Cipressa with 22km to go. There were no long-range attacks from the likes of van der Poel, so it all came down to the Poggio.
“It was a fast race today, in the end, the watts are the same from Capo Berti to Cipressa to Poggio,” Stuyven said. “The tempo was high, and then there were 30 guys up front. There was not a team who went all in to line it out. Everyone is at the high level, and maybe Wout or Mathieu hesitated a bit to go all-in to win. We’ve seen in the last year’s that a group goes away, but everyone had a good level today.”
Stuyven was bracing for attacks that never came. When Alaphilippe finally opened things up near the top of the Poggio, there were still too many fresh legs to make it stick.
“On the Poggio, everyone was waiting for the explosion. I managed to be in the front group, I was not sure how many we were, but there were a lot of fast guys,” he said. “There were no helpers left, and the ‘big 3’ were there, so I knew they are going to look a little bit at each other.
“There was a hesitation before the bottom of the downhill, I could go on the left and put it in the big gear, and after 30 seconds, I cannot say I regretted it, but the pain kicked in,” Stuyven explained. “Then I saw Søren [Kragh Andersen] was coming and he caught me at 1km to go, which was nice to get a little pressure off the legs. Søren pulled through to attack, and he put me on the limit. I had to believe in it, but I was able to hold on.”
DSM’s Kragh Andersen faded as the leaders honed in on Stuyven. But just like Fabian Cancellara, who won in similar fashion in 2008, he had just enough left in the tank to hold on for the win.
“I’ve won some other races in similar ways,” he said. “It’s one of my strengths if I can find the right moment, and they give the gap, I could hold on. The way to win a monument is really nice.”
The victory is the most important so far in Stuyven’s career. With wins such as Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the Italian monument by far is his most illustrious.
“I’ve been building my palmarès slowly and I’ve had some nice victories. I’ve been close in Roubaix,” he said. “Why it’s only the first time to win a monument? It’s because everything falls into the right place, and it’s better to take the win than take 10 times second and third. It’s nice to win the monument. I don’t care if I don’t have other podiums in other monuments … yet.”