Fortune favoured the brave on Saturday in the first Monument of the 2021 cycling season, with Belgium’s Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) causing a huge upset in a thrilling finale of a sun-drenched Milan-San Remo.
After a select group of around a dozen riders completed the twisting descent of the perilous Poggio climb all in contention for the win, Stuyven went for broke with a bold attack two kilometres from the end of the 299km race. Denmark’s Soren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM) eventually led the chase, the two riders coming together just under the flamme rouge on the via Roma.
Pre-race favourite Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) then launched a last-ditch attempt from the stellar chasing group alongside defending champion Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and the Australian Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal). But it was a case of too little, too late for the big guns as 28-year-old Stuyven held on by a whisker to secure the biggest win of his career.
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Ewan finished the fastest but had to settle for second place for the second time in his career, with Van Aert taking the final spot on the podium ahead of the returning Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Dutchman Van der Poel.
World champion Julian Alaphilippe, the 2019 winner from Deceuninck Quick-Step, made the initial move on the Poggio climb, forcing the selection after some hefty pace-setting from the Ineos Grenadiers team of 2017 winner, Michal Kwiatkowski. But the Frenchman faded in the run-in to San Remo, Alaphilippe crossing the line in sixteenth place – sandwiched by the Ineos duo of British debutant Tom Pidcock and Poland’s Kwiatkowski.
Faced with the prospect of being squeezed out in a super-fast sprint or throwing the dice early, Stuyven opted for the latter, benefiting from mass indecision from his rivals – including the three big pre-race favourites in Alaphilippe, Van Aert and Van der Poel.
"There were three guys who were really strong and who everyone talked about but that didn't mean we weren't going to race for the win,” the Trek-Segafredo rider said.

'No of course not!' - Stuyven didn't expect to beat superstars at Milan-San Remo

“We had a plan to go for it. I felt really good all day. The final was going really well. I was there on the Poggio with some fast guys so I knew that I had to try all or nothing. Which I did - because if I go to the line, I maybe finish around fifth to tenth place. And I prefer to go all in and take the biggest victory of my career.
Maybe eight times out of ten we have nothing, but two times or even one time, I have everything. It's amazing. The boys put me in the perfect position at all the important bits of the parcours. It was a good gap and the legs were really empty at the end - but it doesn't matter whether you win by one minute or one centimetre.
A perfect day for Stuyven’s Trek-Segafredo team saw them place a rider, the Italian Nicola Conci, in the day’s eight-man break, which went clear shortly after the start and built up a maximum lead of 7’30” as the race headed away from Milan towards the Ligurian coast.
Conci was joined by Andrea Peron and Charles Planet (Team Novo Nordisk), Mattia Viel and Filippo Tagliani (Androni-Sidermec), Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè), Taco Van der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) and Mathias Norsgaard (Movistar).

Highlights: Stuyven's late attack shocks the big boys at Milan-San Remo

The “tre capi” climbs of the Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta whittled down both the peloton and the break, with just four riders out ahead when the race hit the Cipressa climb with 25km remaining. Dutchman Van der Hoorn was the last man to be swept up from the break as Ineos Grenadiers came to the front in numbers to drill out a fast tempo.
With Conci in the break, Trek-Segafredo had been able to keep their powder dry – and when the fireworks were finally set off on the Poggio, Stuyven’s legs were fresh enough to stay with the favourites. But he was not the only one: the sight of Australian sprinter Ewan riding on the front of the select group on the decisive climb was an indication that things were perhaps not going to play out as expected.
And when Alaphilippe finally lit the torch paper near the summit of the Poggio, Ewan and his compatriot Michael Matthews (Bike-Exchange) had enough to stick with the big guns – as did the impressive 21-year-old Pidcock, riding his first Monument for Ineos.

Savage Poggio descent causes dangerous crash for Loic Vliegen

As a second chasing group pegged back the leaders on the twisting descent - which claimed a victim in Belgian Loic Vliegen, the Intermarche-Wanty Gobert rider almost going over a wall after overcooking a bend - it looked like a reduced sprint was on the cards for the finale.
But Stuyven read the situation perfectly, darting clear while the others were watching each other, surviving being pegged back by Kragh Andersen, before holding off a late charge from some of the world’s finest finishers in Ewan, Van Aert, Sagan and Van der Poel.
It was a superb, if unexpected, end to La Classicissima, the first of five Monuments of the season, back in its usual springtime slot following the upheaval caused by the pandemic in 2020.
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