As Arnaud Démare (FDJ) hit the front on the Via Roma and the ‘Arrivo’ banner for Milan-San Remo up ahead drew ever closer, a chilling thought suddenly flashed across his mind. “I launched my sprint from distance, just the way I like, but then I started wondering if there was still someone up the road, because I’d lost track of the race,” he admitted afterwards.
It was that kind of edition of Milan-San Remo, but at the end of a breathless, crash-strewn finale, Démare had indeed emerged from the tumult as the mildly surprising winner, ahead of Ben Swift (Sky) and Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal).
Démare was among the riders held up in a crash at the base of the Cipressa, with 25 kilometres remaining, but after a white-knuckle pursuit in the company of William Bonnet, Mathieu Ladagnous and Kevin Reva, the Frenchman found himself back in the front group on the lower slopes of the Poggio.
“After the crash, I was ready to throw in the towel to be honest. I said to myself: ‘It’s over.’ I thought it was gone. But then my directeur sportif came past in the car and said not to panic because [Michael] Matthews had crashed too and there were more riders chasing back on,” Démare said.
“I got back on right at the foot of the Poggio, but I thought I’d used up all my energy but sometimes you just have days where everything smiles on you. A day of grace, so to speak.”
The drama at Milan-San Remo is always concentrated in the final kilometres. Here, it was distilled into the very last metres. First, Fernando Gaviria (Etixx-QuickStep) crashed just as the sprint began, disrupting world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), among others, and then Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) slipped a chain in the sprint itself, just as he was lined up side by side with Démare.
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