Last week I wrote that if Geraint Thomas could win the Milan-San Remo he’d be the first man to win the Paris-Nice and the seasons first Monument in the same year since Laurent Jalabert in 1995. That didn’t happen, but Jalabert’s 1995 success was still significant because that was the last time a Frenchman had won the La Classicissima before Arnaud Démare crossed the line to win on Saturday. Indeed it was the first French Monument win since Jalabert at the Giro d’Lombardia in 1997.
And yet like with the Tirreno-Adriatico and the cancelled stage, it was a race in which the outcome was once again steeped in controversy with the major talking point far removed from the result itself. Not because snow cancellations sparked a row on Twitter, but because two Italian riders accused Démare of holding onto his team-car on the second to last climb after being held up by a crash. The upshot has been 24 hours worth of Strava analysis and finger pointing without any serious evidence, that has surely taken some of the gleam off the result.
At the end of the day, without video or photographic evidence, and without his power files, something some have called for him to release but which he is under no obligation to do, we’ll never know for sure what happened. Proving ones innocence is something we’re all too familiar with in cycling, but history has shown that it only tends to lead to more questions and speculation from conspiracy theorists; Demare need only ask Chris Froome about that. And besides, Demare releasing his power files to ensure he took no tow on his way to victory would only see the same demands being put on everyone who won every subsequent race from now until every helmet is fitted with a camera!
What I would like is to see some further clarification from the two Italian riders on their post-race accusations to see if they stood by them in the cold light of day.
Scandals and sideshows, be they warranted or not, seem forever likely to linger over bike racing. Froome can tell you about the sideshows; the motorised doping scandal that completely overshadowed a brilliant Cyclo-cross World Championships tells you all you need know about continued scandals. Last weeks Tirreno Adriatico had a sideshow scandal of its own when a stage was cancelled due to snow Matt Brammieier took to Twitter to rant at Vincenzo Nibali. It stole the headlines away from Greg Van Avermaet’s overall win.
One quick Google search for ‘Milan San Remo’ brings up the headline: ‘Demare hits back at Milan-San Remo tow allegations’. There’s several others like it and lost in the middle one called: ‘How the Race was won’. I haven’t read it yet but I assume it isn’t telling us it was won when Démare held onto his team car and accompanied with a grainy picture showing him riding alongside the car as was the case in one Italian outlet before someone pointed out that this wasn’t the climb in question but rather one hundred or more kilometres further down the road.
This isn’t to blame all the media. Here I am devoting several paragraphs to it also, but just a lament on how continually cycling puts itself, or more aptly, put’s itself, behind the eight ball of scandal. And so I’ll drop that story line now, at least until someone shows me some hard evidence that Démare did indeed cheat, at which time we can hand the win to a Brit! No, not Geraint Thomas in his failed bid for the Paris-Nice/San Remo double, but Ben Swift. His second top three in as many editions.
Swift must be frustrated at two close calls with Monument glory, whereas Démare will be feeling on top of the world despite all the noise. To go from crashing out of the lead pack, to chasing them, catching them, climbing with them on the Pogio, and then out sprinting them is one fine effort. He’ll also feel a little fortunate too. The two favoured sprinters in the pack ran into trouble of their own. Fernando Gaviria crashed inside the final 300 metres, a crash that should have brought down Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara but for some superb bike handling by the pair, but disrupting their speed enough to rule them out; and Nacer Bouhanni who’s chain jumped right as he was beginning his sprint. That isn’t to say any of them would have beaten Demare…the sprint in Milan-San Remo is a funny one, coming after 300km of racing and thus not always favoured to the fastest man on paper. And besides, mechanicals and crashes are all part of racing (the later of which Démare knew all too well) but in the end the best man gets in the position to avoid this and he wins, and on Saturday it was a Frenchman at long last.
Milan – San Remo result:
|1. Arnaud Demare (FDJ)
2. Ben Swift (Sky)
3. Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal)
4. Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis)
5. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC)
6. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha)
in 6h 54′ 45″
Rider of the week:
Assuming all is cosher with his chase back on following the crash and then sprint to victory, it’s hard to look beyond Démare.