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Milan-San Remo 2013: five observations

The 2013 edition of Milan-San Remo provided, through a mix of brutal weather conditions and a world class field, a compelling spectacle for those fortunate enough to watch from the comfort of their homes.

For the riders, exposed variously to wind, rain, snow, and biting temperatures, it provided a fresh, if unwanted opportunity, to prove that they are among the toughest competitors in sport.

There was little of spring about this year’s La Primavera, but for those able to survive the conditions, March 17, 2013 will represent a day to remember for the rest of their careers. For others, a noted Belgian hardman among them, it was a day to forget.

Here are five observations from an edition of La Classicissima likely to hold a place among the finest in its 106-year history.

Fabian Cancellara will always be a factor at Milan-San Remo 

Spartacus will be a contender at MSR for as long as he appears on the start list

In recent years, Spartacus has become a victim of his own success, the most obvious example coming at last year’s Milan-San Remo when eventual winner Simon Gerrans hitched a free ride on his wheel from the foot of the Poggio to the finish line . Peter Sagan was clearly paying attention that day and followed a similar strategy on stage one of the 2012 Tour de France, prompting a miffed Cancellara to declare ahead of yesterday’s encounter that he would not ‘pull’ if Sagan was close. In the end, he didn’t need to. The Slovakian was first to blink, but Cancellara, not a noted sprinter, finished within inches of him and winner, Gerald Ciolek (MTN- Qhubeka), despite a disappointing run of form that, Tour de France prologue aside, lasted most of last year. Impressive.

 Team Sky will attempt to control the Classics, too

Team Sky made a brief attempt at controlling the race on the road to San Remo but became unstuck when Thomas crashed

With about 40km to go, the dark chain of Team Sky riders hit the font en masse for the first time. Observers of this year’s Tour of Oman, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico will have recognised the signs instantly: a bid to control the race in its final stages and tee up victory for one of their number. It was one derailed almost instantly by the crash that removed Geraint Thomas from contention, but which had already suffered stiffer resistance than any similar attempt in this year’s early-season stage races from competing teams, notably Cannondale. On this showing, however brief, dominance for Dave Brailsford’s men looks harder to attain in the Classics.

Ian Stannard is a ‘diesel’ of rare ability

Ian Stannard’s committed descent of the Poggio matched his full gas run for the line

Ian Stannard’s propulsion to Team Sky leader in the void created by the sudden absence of Thomas (see above) and that of Edvald Boasson Hagen soon after saw a fine example of a rider standing up to be counted. Stannard being Stannard, it was an effort made at full gas, and with some impressive descending. Keenly aware of the absence of a sprint from his arsenal, the British champion continued to launch attacks, both on the flatter sections of the Cipressa and the Poggio, and as late as the final two kilometres. The white jersey, with its blue and red stripes, was proudly worn on one of cycling’s biggest stages yesterday, and well served.

Teams must mark Sagan more closely if they are to thwart his plans

Rival teams were unable to halt Peter Sagan’s challenge for victory despite his status as overwhelming favourite

Despite starting the race as “the hottest of hot favourites”, as Eurosport’s Declan Quigley elegantly summarised, Sagan found himself in the box seats as the lead group of six passed under the one kilometre to banner. No amount of pre-race briefings it seemed had allowed rival teams to slow the progress of the Slovak sensation, who descended the Poggio with expected fearlessness and showed the confidence to lead out the sprint; ironically, his only mistake. On yesterday’s performance, there is little to prevent Sagan from contending for victory in the remaining Monuments, unless teams target him in the way the way they did Cavendish last year.

Race organisers must pay closer attention to weather forecasts

Snow was forecast, but conditions on parts of the route still forced riders back on to team buses

Snow on the Turchino Pass surprised no one but the organisers, it seems. A hastily reconnoitered split stage provided novelty and frustration in equal measure, depending on which side of the television screen you were sat. For a Mr T Boonen of Flanders, it proved the final straw, and once inside the relative comfort of the OPQS team bus, he showed no inclination to leave. Kuurne Brussels Kuurne was cancelled on the day of the race after a few hours of deliberations; yesterday’s solution was only slightly more satisfactory.

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