Milano-Sanremo 2021: Jasper Stuyven Outfoxes The Favorites

The 112th edition of Milano-Sanremo once again demonstrated why La Primavera often produces the most exciting final 15 minutes in cycling.


Much of the fanfare in the lead up to the season’s first monument centered around the three main favorites: Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert and Julian Alaphilippe. When it was all said and done, the big three had come up empty. Instead, an outsider had seized the day. 


In recent years, Milano-Sanremo has been decided by the Poggio di Sanremo, a climb whose summit comes roughly six kilometers from the finish. For punchers, it is the final launching pad on which a difference can be made. For sprinters, it is one final obstacle standing between them and a bunch charge.


This year, the Poggio did not whittle down the contenders to a handful of riders. The anticipated attack from one of the favorites came near the top, initiated by Alaphilippe. However, it did not have the desired effect. Instead of the attacking duo that we had a year ago, a group of eleven came over the top of the Poggio together.


After some aggressive racing on the descent, the pace came out of the group as the terrain leveled out. With about 3 km to go, this opened the door for a rider to try going solo. 


Jasper Stuyven took full advantage of that opportunity. The “chocolatier from Flanders,” as he was brilliantly described by commentator Rob Hatch, attacked hard on the left hand side of the road. The chasing group immediately stalled, sitting up and giving him a gap rather than cooperating. 


With just outside of a kilometer to go, Stuyven was joined by Søren Kragh Andersen. Just behind them, a group of 15 was queuing up with the aim of playing spoiler.


Final Kilometer



As the leading duo entered the final kilometer, Stuyven wisely let Kragh Andersen take the lead. In doing so, he secured himself a draft and a few seconds of respite before the final effort.


Behind, nobody quite felt confident enough to bridge the gap while towing the other fast finishers up to the front. Wout van Aert, Matteo Trentin and Julian Alaphilippe all surged momentarily.


Eventually, it was Mathieu van der Poel who opened up the sprint at the same moment that Stuyven made his bid for glory.


The Belgian visibly ran out of gas inside the final 50 meters, but he had just enough left to hold on. Stuyven raised his arms in celebration after crossing the line with the pack right on his heels.


They had caught him, but could not come around him.


In the end, it was Caleb Ewan and Wout van Aert who rounded out the podium. Peter Sagan and Mathieu van der Poel concluded a star-studded top five.


Final Thoughts



For Stuyven, this is certainly the biggest victory of his career thus far. After two top fives at Paris-Roubaix in the past, Stuyven has now secured his first monument victory at the age of 28.


His comments about adopting an all or nothing approach perfectly sum up how he managed to pull off the victory. As he said, his move may have come up short eight times out of ten. However, the fact that Stuyven’s roll of the dice gave him any chance at victory made it worth it.


Aside from generally encouraging attacking racing, this mindset is especially well suited to the finish of Milano-Sanremo. The breakneck speed of the final few kilometers means that there is no time to weigh the options. Riders simply have to race on instinct.


Stuyven played that game perfectly today. He saw his opportunity and went all out. There was never a moment when he stopped to think things over. He rode full gas and trusted that the rest would work out in his favor.


As he said in his post-race interview, bike racing does not always play out like that. 


When things fall into place like they did today, it can be a beautiful thing to watch.  


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