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Milano-Sanremo: What the stars said after opening monument of 2021

Caleb Ewan's climbing surprise, Wout van Aert's losing gamble, and much more from the playmakers of Sanremo.

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Milano-Sanremo saw as thrilling a finale as ever Saturday, with Poggio attacks, an all-or-nothing move from race-winner Jasper Stuyven, and a tense final pursuit as the favorites sensed the champagne slipping away from them.

Stuyven stole the show with a career-topping victory, but behind him, what were the other major movers and shakers of Sanremo saying?

From unlikely climber Caleb Ewan to disappointed defending champ Wout van Aert, here’s what the stars said after the opening monument of the year:

Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal): 2nd

Caleb Ewan was active in the bunch that reeled in the opening attacks on the Poggio. Not known for his climbing ability, the powerful Aussie was one of the last riders expected to be seen in the wheels, particularly after a number of heavy sprinters had been dropped on the preceding Cipressa climb. Ewan was one of the fastest finishers in the group that rolled onto the Via Roma as Stuyven dashed up the road, and though the 26-year-old had the speed to hit second on the podium, it was an opportunity lost.

“The first time I finished second in 2018, I thought it was a good result as it was only my second participation in ‘La Primavera.’ Now, it’s a major disappointment. That second place in 2018 confirmed that I could potentially win the race one day and that is why most years, Milano-Sanremo is a main goal for me. I knew I was coming into the race with good form and this year, I really tried to improve my climbing. I even practiced that attack on the Poggio many times. In this situation, it’s always a lottery and you just have to wait and take the risk. I took it and did what I needed to do to win. Jasper was just too far in front and I definitely don’t have any regrets.”

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma): 3rd

Wout van Aert was shouldered with the burden of top-tier favorite and defending champion on Saturday. The Belgian ace was the first to react to Julian Alaphilippe’s initial probing acceleration on the Poggio, and then motored the lead bunch over the top of the climb. When Stuyven made his move at two kilometers to go, van Aert took the responsibility of leading the pursuit after Søren Kragh Andersen had started his desperate chase for the Trek-Segafredo captain.

“I had the legs to win, but I was caught. Milano-Sanremo is a very difficult course to win and I gambled and lost in the final. I also didn’t want to throw away my sprinting chances to ride full behind Jasper with the rest in my wake. A lot of people were looking at me and that’s logical of course. On the Poggio I tried, but we were still with too many guys. I expected a bigger shake-up, but apparently, the conditions were not tough enough. I’m disappointed that I didn’t win, but I don’t know if I could have done something different.”

Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step): 16th

Julian Alaphilippe did what Julian Alaphilippe does, sparking off the action with a testing acceleration on the Poggio. His move was soon shut down by Wout van Aert, and from there, the world champ followed the pack down the sinuous descent and was one of the many who hesitated in starting the chase after Stuyven’s winning attack. Alaphilippe was maneuvered into leading-out the sprint as the pursuers hit the final 300 meters and then found himself swamped as riders kicked from the wheels behind him.

“We respected the objective we had set ourselves, to take the race in hand and try everything in the finale. The finale was very difficult. I gave my best today, made my move on the Poggio, but it didn’t work out. I am not disappointed, because I did everything that was possible.”

Søren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM): 9th

Søren Kragh Andersen was the only rider from the front group able to bridge to the charging move by Stuyven. With the rest of the bunch breathing over their shoulders, the Dane took up the pulling, towing Stuyven toward the line. When his rival pinged off his wheel and launched his sprint, Kragh Andersen had nothing left to respond and was out-kicked in the final gallop for podium places.

“I tried to follow the big guys in the end and I was able to be there which was good. I was a bit surprised they let Stuyven go straight away, it’s always hard to predict. I attacked and closed the gap but was already suffering and from then on I made a few mistakes. That’s how it is and I’ll have to look back and learn from it.

Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal): 72nd

Philippe Gilbert rolled home in 72nd-place, one of his worst results in 17 appearances at “La Classicissima.” The Belgian veteran was distanced when the pace rocketed over the climbs of the Cipressa and Poggio, putting an end to his quest to take a full sweep of the monuments for another year. Having won all the highly prized monuments except Milano-Sanremo, Gilbert now has just one opportunity to complete the set before retiring at the end of next season.

“I am very disappointed. I thought I had good legs, but in the end I just didn’t have the energy to play a role in the race. It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of motivation, but I just missed a pair of good legs today. Of course, it wasn’t my best Milan-Sanremo, but it was still nice to have this day in the legs for the races to come.”