If you were to ask any cycling race organiser what their dream podium would be, they would most likely name that of the Milano-Sanremo 2023: Mathieu Van der Poel – Filippo Ganna – Wout Van Aert, along with Tadej Pogačar in fourth place, just to enjoy.
For anyone into cycling, as well as for sports fans in general, witnessing those four on the Poggio, destroying the peloton to the sound of watts, with a tailwind blowing them into glory, is as close as it can get to poetry in motion.
We all know it, we have known it for 114 years: from the very first team showing up at pre-stage operations at 9 am, all the way to the last 15 km or so, the situation will be steady and predictable, to say the least.
This is what this race is about: waiting and managing tension. But when the real show kicks off, when the fire and flames are unleashed on that 3.7 km at 3.7% known as the Poggio, all the waiting is finally justified, every single metre of that seemingly innocuous tongue of asphalt is pure emotion.
Let’s be honest, length and altimetry are not what a race is about. A race is about the riders competing to win it, and if a rider like Tadej Pogačar takes the initiative, we can rest assured, we will not be bored, not for a second, even if we have been waiting six hours for those 15 minutes of pure adrenaline.
So, when that kid from Slovenia goes for it, something we have already seen him do many times in these first few weeks of the season, an equally high-level response can only come from other aliens, and the other aliens in the peloton today were Wout Van Aert and Mathieu Van der Poel.
Palpitations went through the roof when Tim Wellens, Tadej’s teammate, raised his pace on the first slopes of the Poggio. That’s when we knew the bow was being stretched and the arrow would soon be shot. And the Slovenian arrow was shot indeed, but so was the Dutch arrow (Van der Poel) and the Belgian arrow (Van Aert), along with another arrow, actually closer to a train most of the time, namely Filippo Ganna.
For the very first time, we had the privilege to admire Ganna in this guise as a Classics hunter, and the impression, let’s admit it, was rather gratifying, not least in light of what the rest of the season and of his career might have in store for him.
The Piedmontese rider even seemed to be the most alert, the quickest and the freshest in responding to Pogačar, while Van Aert and Van der Poel needed a fraction of a second more to catch up to the two-time Tour de France winner.
A few hundred metres from the summit of the Poggio, when it looked as if the four of them could all tackle the renowned descent towards Via Roma together – with nothing but emptiness behind them – Mathieu Van der Poel counter-attacked and went solo. The flying Dutchman quickly gained 15 to 20 metres on his rivals: it was plain and clear, he was gone for good.
VDP brushed every curve of the descent – without taking too many risks unlike Mohorič last year, but still showing his skills as a downhill racer – and entered Via Roma with his arms raised. A few metres behind, Ganna once again proved that he had even more power than usual in his legs today, angrily taking second place ahead of Van Aert and Pogačar. It was a clash of stars, and it could only result in a big bang. – www.giroditalia.it