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With Milano-Sanremo only days away, we are taking a look back at some of the most memorable editions of “La Primavera,” the season’s first monument. The race has been won in a variety of ways, ranging from bunch sprints to bold solo attacks. What can we learn from the history of this long and unpredictable classic race?
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Simon Gerrans had a hot hand in the first few months of 2012, winning the Australian national championships, the Tour Down Under, and finishing second in stage 3 at Paris-Nice behind Alejandro Valverde. The only problem was that, for the fifth year in a row, Milano-Sanremo was set to finish on Corso Cavallotti, more favorable for a bunch sprint. Though Fabian Cancellara won with an unbelievable solo attack on this finish in 2008 and Matthew Goss won from a small group in 2011, this run to the line was generally thought to favor pure sprinters.
What happened: Undeterred, the peloton’s opportunists launched attacks right away on the final climb, the famous Poggio, 10 kilometers from the finish. First Valerio Agnoli set off, testing the waters for his Liquigas-Cannondale teammates Vincenzo Nibali and Peter Sagan. He was followed by Movistar’s Angel Madrazo and then Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM). But the real fireworks went off when Nibali attacked, followed by Gerrans. Soon, Fabian Cancellara bridged the gap and the Swiss “time machine” paced the trio to the finish. With a Katusha-led peloton breathing down the break’s neck, Gerrans had ice water in his veins and held fire to win the final sprint.
What we learned from the race: Coming out of the early 2000s, when sprinters often owned Milano-Sanremo (also an era, not coincidentally, when blood doping was rampant in the peloton), 2012 proved that a select group of puncheurs could win the day. It also treated fans to a beautiful tactical play, with two teams putting their attackers in the move (Nibali and Gerrans), while their sprinters (Sagan and Goss, respectively) sat back in the peloton, the aces in the hole.
Could it play out this way again? Definitely. On one hand, there’s not a huge engine in the peloton like Cancellara to drag the break to the line, but on the other, the Via Roma finish reduces the flat run to the line by about a kilometer. Plus, a few teams could try the 1-2 tactic that worked for Gerrans.