Gerro gives Australia back-to-back Sanremo wins

Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE) gave Australia back-to-back wins in one of the most prestigious one-day classics on Saturday, Milano-Sanremo. In 100 years of racing, no Aussie had ever won, and now there are two with Gerrans and Goss last year.

They join an elite group of native English speakers who’ve tasted victory along the Italian Riviera: Tom Simpson in 1964, Sean Kelly in 1986 and 1992, and Mark Cavendish in 2009. Frenchman Lucien Petit-Breton won the first edition in 1907.

“Phil [Anderson] introduced me to cycling, he was my first coach. He introduced me to competitive cycling and to racing,” Gerrans said on Saturday. “It’s pretty safe to say that without Phil I wouldn’t have taking up cycling. Since that first moment, I fell in love with the sport and haven’t looked back.”

Anderson headed Australia’s modern day push. He became the first Aussie to wear the Tour de France’s yellow jersey in 1981. Cadel Evans won the race last year, 30 later.

Gerrans and Anderson lived on adjacent farms in Mansfield, northeast of Melbourne. Following a motorbike crash, Gerrans was persuaded by his neighbour to try something new. Cycling was more niche than commonplace, but now – thanks to Anderson, Stuart O’Grady, Robbie McEwen and Cadel Evans – it’s changed.

Simon Gerrans estatic after wining one of cycling's grand monuments.

“Races are getting so much more coverage in Australia. Luckily for me my first Tour de France was in 2005, and that was the first year it was broadcasted live on television in Australia. From that point on, for me, cycling just really took off,” Gerrans said earlier this year.

“People were sitting up late at night watching the Tour de France, some of them didn’t even have an idea of what they were looking at or what was happening, but they just loved the Tour de France for its different aspects. I think that was really the catalyst for the boom for cycling in Australia.”

Sports director, Matt White was thrilled for his GreenEDGE rider (see the team’s video). Gerrans’ win kept Australia cycling in the spotlight and gave GreenEDGE its first big one-day race win.

“It’s global cycling. Cycling’s changing,” White said in Sanremo. “It’s really big for Australia, and I am very proud man.”

Goss proud of GreenEDGE’s progress

GreenEDGE signed Goss and Gerrans as its two star cyclists heading into its debut season. The idea is that without a serious GC rider, the team could focus on classification in smaller, week-long tours, stage wins and one-day races. It has worked.

Gerrans won the Tour Down Under, Goss and the team won the opening time trial in Tirreno-Adriatico and Gerrans won Milano-Sanremo. On Monday, the team’s Swiss, Michael Albasini won the opening stage of the Volta a Catalunya in Spain.

“It’s absolutely incredible. For anyone who thinks GreenEDGE isn’t getting enough results, have a look at that one,” Goss said after Sanremo. “We wanted to focus on classics and we had are goals in the nationals, Tour Down Under and Tirreno. And now to win a classic!”

Matt Goss during the press conference after Stage 1 of Tirreno Adriatico.

Goss thought for a moment about what his team had accomplished, winning again one of cycling’s five monuments. (The others being the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Giro di Lombardia.)

“Two Aussies now to win it, it’s a great that Simon’s got this win. It’s absolutely incredible, I’m stoked for him.”

The team used its two star riders to perfection: Gerrans to cover escapes and Goss for an eventual sprint.

“My radio wasn’t working so we were just talking with each other when we were next to each other. You know, he obviously felt good and I felt good.

“We always intended to stay in the front over the top of the Mànie because we knew it could be super hard, look what happened last year. This year it almost was an identical thing. This year it paid to be in the front and that was one of our objectives from the start. It’s been an absolutely awesome day.”

Cancellara all power, but no brains

Gerrans won Sanremo, Nibali started the attack, but Cancellara pulled it all together. The Swiss Olympic time trial and classics champion towed his two companions from the top of Cipressa to the Sanremo seaside.

Similar strength gave him his solo wins in the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Sanremo in 2008 and, even two weeks earlier, Strade Bianche. Only this time he was not alone, but with two serious rivals.

“He was racing for the win,” Gerrans said, “but maybe he underestimated me.”

Cancellara was up against one of the most tactically astute riders in the peloton. Gerrans won the Tour Down Under in January over Alejandro Valverde by making sure he out-placed him in the early stages and stuck with him on the key hilltop stage. He is also the only Aussie to win stages in all three Grand Tours, again thanks to his tactical smarts in finding the right escape group and then giving everything at the right time.

Cancellara leading the escape with Gerrans and Nibali in tow.

Gerrans recovered and explained the final in the press conference. “It’s not very often I can contest these races,” he said. “I want to make the most of it.”

He benefited with last year’s winner and team-mate, Matt Goss behind to contest a possible sprint. Nibali had Peter Sagan. Cancellara, it seems, forgot about Daniele Bennati and wanted the escape to succeed at any cost.

He zipped down the Poggio and motored into Sanremo – 6.2 kilometres in total. Gerrans gave two pulls and waited to pounce. Nibali, knowing he was unable to ride solo or sprint, held out for Sagan.

Cancellara looked over the straight where he soloed for two kilometres in 2008 and tried to explain – in German, Italian and French – his tactics.

“I never thought of easing off, if I had, we would’ve died,” he said. “I knew their plan, they wanted to make me work and rest at the same time.”

It worked. Gerrans zipped past, smarts winning over strength.

Cavendish – momento di crisi

Mark Cavendish dreamt of becoming the first World Champion in 29 years since Giuseppe Saronni to win Milano-Sanremo. On Le Mànie, the climb brought in 2008 and just under 100 kilometres to race, his dream ended.

Mark Cavendish prior to the start of Milan San Remo.

The “race gets filed in my #worstdaysofmycareer list,” Cavendish Tweeted on Sunday. “Something was VERY wrong. No explanation, but I let down an incredible group.”

His group lost time quickly, what Italian television called a “momento di crisi.” First the gap was 30 seconds and then up to 90 seconds. His helpers brought it back to 24 seconds at one point before Cavendish threw in the towel and realised he didn’t have the legs to become one of the few.

Since the start of Sanremo in 1907, only four cyclists have won in the rainbow jersey of world champion: Alfredo Binda in 1931, Eddy Merckx in 1972 and 1975, and Saronni in 1983.

Other Sanremo numbers

– 44 solo winners, with Cancellara succeeding last in 2008.
– 22 from a group sprint.
– 16 in their debut with Cavendish in 2009.
– 7 wins for Merckx, his first in 1966 when he was 20.
– 2008 year Le Mànie was added
– 1982 Cipressa
– 1960 Poggio
– 9 years since last success win from Poggio attack, Paolo Bettini.

Gerrans back on top

Gerrans climbed back on top of the WorldTour rankings after he gained 100 points with his Sanremo win.

UCI WorldTour rankings:
1 Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE) 210
2 Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) 182
3 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 167
4 Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 112

Nibali leads CQ Rankings, which also counts HC, .1 and .2 races.
1 Nibali 718
2 Gerrans 711
3 Valverde 633
4 Wiggins 507

A change in ways for Milano-Sanremo?

Organiser RCS Sport is thinking about changing Milano-Sanremo for next year.

On Monday, operations director Mauro Vegni wrote in Twitter, “Thinking about changing the finish line in Sanremo.”

He told French newspaper, L’Equipe, “The race does not give an attacker much chance of finishing alone, solo.”

The race may finish on Via Cavalotti, about two kilometres before the finish line this year on Italo Calvino. Instead of 6.2 kilometres from the top of the Poggio, a rider would only have to hold an attack for around 4.2 kilometres.

In 2008, the race changed from its traditional finish on Via Roma to Italo Calvino because shopkeepers complained of disruptions. The Via Roma was first used in 1949, when Fausto Coppi won.

Vegni is also considering more climbing before the finish.

Catalunya!

Spanish races face distinction due to the country’s final crisis, which gives even more reason to enjoy the Volta a Catalunya this week.

Michael Albasini (GreenEDGE) won the opening stage on Monday in Calella. He attacked from a five-man group with 15 kilometres to race and won solo.

Michael Albasini takes out stage 2 of Volta Ciclista a Catalunya.

He said in a press release, “I realised if I could unload the other guys in the break, I had a good chance of making it to the finish.”

“We’ll enjoy the leader’s jersey,” said sports director, Neil Stephens. “We’re not looking to defend the jersey all week. We came here for stage wins.”

Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) and Paris-Nice winner, Wiggins are racing.

Stages:
1: March 19, Calella, 138.9km (results)
2: March 20, Girona, 161.0km (results)
3: March 21, La Vall d’en Bas – Port Mànie, 210.9km
4: March 22, Tremp – Ascó, 199.0km
5: March 23, Ascó – Manresa, 207.1km
6: March 24, Sant Fruitós del Bages – Badalona, 169.4km
7: March 25, Badalona – Barcelona, 119.8km

GP Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem

Milano-Sanremo got the spring classics season rolling. This weekend, it continues with the GP Harelbeke, or E3 Prijs, on Friday and the more famous, Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday.

Boonen won Gent-Wevelgem last year and, based on Sanremo, looks to be in form.

“I was feeling and my legs were good in Sanremo,” he said. He was disappointed to be caught behind by a crash in Sanremo, but “optimistic for the spring classics because” his condition is good.

Cavendish also targets the race and wants revenge after Sanremo. Look for his team Sky to race as it did in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and annihilate its rivals.

Giorgia Wurth takes stage

Italian actress Giorgia Wurth on Thursday became the godmother of the Giro d’Italia and RCS Sport’s other races. On Saturday, she presented Gerrans with his Sanremo trophy.

“When I was a little girl, I remember my grand-dad going out to see the race pass,” Wurth said of Sanremo. “I’m a fan of Nibali and Cancellara.”

See Wurth react on the appointment for yourself.

Look back at Gerrans’ win

You may review Gerrans’ win, from the Poggio to the line in Sanremo. Enjoy!

Full 2012 Milan-San Remo results, photos and video.