Polar Express – VCSE’s view on the Spring Classics #2

Following a weekend away VCSE was looking forward to catching up with the first of the seasons key classic races; Milan San Remo. After the aborted attempt to view our recording of Kuurne Brussels Kuurne only to find that it had been cancelled due to snow the first few minutes of MSR felt like deja vu.

As Eurosport began their live feed on Sunday the race was currently stopped as the teams bussed the riders around the snow bound Turchino climb. In between episodes of some kind of sporting ‘You’ve been framed’ we were treated to the sight of the conditions on the climb through the sweeps of the wipers on the producers car.

Bypassing the snow if not persistant heavy rain and low temperatures the organisers prepared to re start the race with around 130km to go, allowing the six man breakaway to restore their 7 minute advantage before releasing the peloton. For the first hour or so the coverage was definitely for die hards as the feed from the motorbike cameras degraded into an acid trip or simply ‘froze’ whenever they were risked to be shown. Race radio was equally patchy in giving accurate information; suggesting at one point that Sylvain Chavanel had abandoned which was ironic when he appeared in the group contesting the win in the final stages.

There were some notable retirements (read did not want to get off the bus at the restart) including Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra from Omega Pharma. When Chavanel’s ‘retirement’ was announced Mark Cavendish’s prediction that he would not figure in the race seemed prescient, albeit not for the reasons he gave beforehand.

The reduction in race distance may have pointed the outcome towards the sprinters but the conditions made predicting the likely winner a lottery. As the Cipressa climb approached the breakaway was caught and the cameras seemed to have dried out enough for the ‘real’ race to start.

Gerald Ciolek

Surprise Surprise – Ciolek in OPQS days

The two big stories? Gerald Ciolek winning would be a good place to start. Ciolek riding for neo pro conti team MTN-Qhubeka would have been among the outside bets even after the restart. MTN’s presence in the early season races has been universally welcomed as the first pro team from Africa but the coverage on Sunday had initially focused on some poorly handled wheel changes. 

Ciolek timed his ride perfectly admitting that his tactics had been to ensure that he stayed in touch with the leaders over the final Poggio climb. Of the final bunch the descending the climb and heading towards the finish line Ciolek was arguably the only out and out sprinter present. However with the likes of Cancellara, Sagan in the group he still wouldn’t have been favourite.

You had to feel for Ian Stannard as the riders crossed the line in sixth place. Stannard was the man for all but the last few hundred metres. When the peloton had caught the break after another monster turn by Vasil Kiryenka Team Sky would have been looking to deliver Geraint Thomas or Edvald Boasson Hagen to the line. The Sky machines grand plan unravelled when Thomas appeared to slip on a white line taking out Tyler Farrar in the process. Boasson Hagen was dropped on the Cipressa but by now all eyes were on Stannard who had broken away with Chavanel on the Poggio.

Stannard will be a leader in some of the forthcoming Belgian classics and possibly Paris Roubaix also but he isn’t known for his sprinting prowess. He had the bit between his teeth on Sunday and deserves a Chapeau! for continually attacking, burning matches furiously and leading onto the finishing straight.

Peter Sagan may feel disappointed that he allowed Ciolek to get the drop on him at the line but he could be forgiven for having one eye on Fabian Cancellara. Cancellara himself said that he was happy with third in the conditions as ‘to arrive.. was victory in itself’.

For the Qhubeka team and Ciolek winning Milan San Remo was ‘incredible’ and announces them on the world stage in the best way possible. This was a fairytale result and it will be interesting to see whether the win spurs them on to bigger things. It’s hard to see that Ciolek would have won in ‘normal’ conditions and his victory came from his own tactical positioning rather than how the the team had worked for him.

There’s every chance that Stannard will kick on from this. His ride added up to so much more than his final placing. Sky have talked up how they intend to feature in the classics this season. Previously they have been criticised for not adapting to racing incidents, but Sunday indicated that they have learnt some new tricks.

As we head to Belgium this weekend things are shaping up nicely.

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