Australian national champion Simon Gerrans claimed the biggest one-day victory of his career by winning the 103rd edition of Milan-Sanremo, the first major classic of the season, on Saturday. After 298 km, and nearly seven hours in the saddle, the GreenEdge rider capped a determined display of riding to beat Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellera in a sprint for the line, with Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali finishing third. Gerrans succeeds teammate Matt Goss as champion of the race known affectionately as ‘La Primavera’ (the Spring), thus becoming the second successive Australian to triumph. He admitted his main role had been to cover attacks by Goss’s main rivals. But after managing the feat of staying on the wheel of Cancellara in a thrilling finale, Gerrans took his chance with both hands by out sprinting the Olympic time trial champion.
“I still haven’t realized what we actually did today,” said Gerrans, a stage winner in all three major three-week Tours. “This is an amazing feeling to win. The team rode perfectly, and we played our cards just the right way.”
GreenEdge’s bid to keep the title in Aussie hands was given a boost early on when Britain’s world champion Mark Cavendish slipped back in the field after the Liquigas team stepped up the pace on the La Monie ascent, 97 kilometers from the line. The TeamSky rider, who won the race in 2009, managed to get back to the second group, clawing back about 40 seconds with the help of his teammates but he was unable to get into the main peloton led at a fast pace by the BMC and Omega Pharma teams. Team Sky sports director Steven de Jongh could only praise his team’s futile efforts.
“The boys did really well to try and pace him back but it wasn’t to be,” said De Jongh. “We waited for him after Le Manie (climb) but in front BMC, Liquigas and Quickstep were all working so it was hard to close it down. They did everything they could but the gap proved too big.”
The race, in sunny but cold conditions, was opened up after the riders left Milan when nine cyclists broke away and stretched their lead up to 14 minutes. The peloton caught them up 57 kilometres from the finish in a hilly section where Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert saw his challenge falter with a crash on the approach to the summit of the second-last ascent, La Cipressa. The real game-changer came, as expected, on the Poggio climb. A sudden attack by Tirreno-Adriatico race champion Nibali prompted Gerrans to counter. Two became three when Cancellara tagged on and immediately began pulling at the front. Thanks to the Swiss’s formidable downhill skills, the trio opened up a decisive lead on the chasing peloton. On the home straight, however, Cancellara was upstaged, for the second year running, when Gerrans countered his final dash for the line.
“I felt Gerrans on my wheel in the finale but I couldn’t race any other way,” said Cancellara. “I took a risk and I couldn’t do any more. I had lactic acid coming out of my ears!”
GreenEdge sports director Matt White said: “Simon had free rein to cover the big moves, and he certainly did today (Saturday). We had two leaders in the race. If it went hard on the Cipresso or Poggio, Simon was our man. If it came back together for a sprint, we’d look to Gossy. Simon played it cool. For Fabian, it was pull hard to get a chance to win or sit back in the bunch. Simon knew this was Fabian’s attitude, and he capitalized on it. He has a fast sprint, and he was able to get over the top of Fabian today.”
“Simon’s a class act,” added White. “This is the biggest win of his career.”