Norwegian sprints to career-defining victory
Alexander Kristoff of Team Katusha took the biggest win of his career yesterday at the 2014 edition of Milan-San Remo. The Norwegian triumphed in the cold and the rain by unleashing a powerful sprint on his Ultimate CF SLX at the end of 300 km and just under seven hours of tough racing. His success in Italy’s biggest one-day race marks the third victory in a Monument for Katusha following Joaquim Rodríguez’s successive wins at Il Lombardia in 2012 and 2013.
Katusha to the fore in the wind and rain
With the blizzards and freezing conditions of the 2013 edition still fresh in the memories of many, nobody could blame the riders for longing after more pleasant conditions this year. Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t to be as they rode through rain and hail for the entirety of the race, providing a spectacle of endurance and suffering for spectators at home.
Katusha proved to be among those most hardened to the extreme conditions with many riders still present in the finale to work for Kristoff and all riders finishing the race. The Russian duo of Pavel Brutt and Aleksandr Kuchynski were highly visible through the gloomy conditions, upping the pace in a depleted peloton prior to the penultimate climb of the day, up the Cipressa, to reel in the day’s break.
Heading up the race’s final climb of the Poggio, which topped out just 6 km from the finish line, Kristoff was able to stay in touch with the front group as several riders attempted to break away and put the sprinters in difficulty. Fortunately for Kristoff he still had Italian Classics specialist Luca Paolini at his side. Paolini put in an enormous effort to shepherd Kristoff back to the front of the pack down the dangerous descent into Sanremo and then kept the pace high to within the last 600 metres, putting off any late attacks.
An elite group of around 25 riders made it to the line to fight for the win with many of the pre-race favourites and previous winners still present, including Fabian Cancellara, Gerald Ciolek, Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan. Nevertheless, with some 300 km in the legs Kristoff proved to be the strongest, surging ahead in the final 150 metres to win by a couple of bike lengths over Cancellara and Team Sky’s Ben Swift.
“It was the best moment of my life”, claimed a delighted Kristoff after the finish, who was keen to highlight the work by his teammate Paolini: “I just said, ‘I’m here Luca,’ and he brought me to the front. He could stay in the group, follow the attacks and he did a great job. I’m very thankful to him. […] A sprint after 300 km is different from one after 200 km. Normally I don’t lose much power even on a long stage”. The Norwegian is well aware of the significance of yesterday’s win and the impact it will have, “Milan-Sanremo really puts you on the map and it’ll always stay in my career. It’s important. It’s almost unbelievable.”
Lobato takes 4th for Movistar Team
Perhaps one of the most standout performances yesterday came from Spain’s Juanjo Lobato, who in his debut Milan-Sanremo just missed out on the podium by finishing 4th. It was a hugely encouraging display by the young sprinter who is in his first season for Movistar Team and rounded off a perfect day for Canyon.
Canyon bikes have now triumphed six times in cycling’s Monuments since 2009.