Sagan-Cancellara tiff helps decide Milan-San Remo

I think it’s fair to say that. Here’s why.

The history

Fabian Cancellara is still pissed off with Peter Sagan after the goofy Slovak sat passively on his wheel before sprinting to victory in stage one of last year’s Tour. I don’t mean Sagan literally sat on Cancellara’s wheel, you understand, because you don’t win too many races by doing that. No, I mean that he drafted him, taking advantage of the Swiss rider’s ability to ride away from the peloton in the closing kilometres of a race.

This is perhaps a particular sore point for Cancellara because he often falls victim to this kind of opportunism from other riders, including at Milan-San Remo last year when Simon Gerrans enjoyed such a lead-out. It must grate and it’s the kind of thing that could lead a man to perceive a showy celebration as being a ‘shenanigan’ – because the man they call ‘Spartacus’ adopts the tone of a disapproving teacher when talking about his younger rival.

Speaking at Tirrendo-Adriatico last week, Cancellara said he wouldn’t let Sagan hitch a ride at this year’s Milan-Remo. He said that if the two of them escaped from the pack, he’d ease off and force him to do some work.

Sagan summed up Cancellara’s quandary and the tactics that would come into play thus:

“This year if I’m in front with Cancellara, the risk for him is that if we get pulled back, then he won’t win the bunch sprint whereas I can still try and win in a group sprint. I have two chances, so if he doesn’t work on the front, maybe I’ll just wait for the group with him, I don’t know.”

The ramifications

Sure enough, come the denouement of this year’s race, Sagan and Cancellara found themselves in a small group ahead of the pack, chasing Sylvain Chavanel and Ian Stannard (who salvaged a fairly shambolic Team Sky performance with an unexpectedly searing ride).

When Cancellara tried to break from their group, Sagan soon discovered that everyone else expected Sagan to be the one to chase him down – so he did. Having caught him, he then found that Cancellara wasn’t much inclined to chase down the leaders, so that task was also left to Sagan.

Cancellara attacked because it was his only chance of winning the race. Sagan followed him and chased down the leaders because otherwise he couldn’t win the race. Meanwhile, Gerald Ciolek did nothing.

Nothing?

Okay, it’s stretching it to say that Gerald Ciolek did nothing. He rode hundreds of kilometres and had the strength to stay with the favourites at the business end of the race, but once there, he did the bike racing equivalent of nothing. He didn’t attack, he didn’t chase, he didn’t drive the pace in any way. He saved his strength as best he could and for the most part everyone ignored him. In hindsight, that was a mistake.

Gerald Ciolek led the 2013 edition of Milan-San Remo for a distance of about eight centimetres. Fortunately for him, those eight centimetres spanned the finish line.