Australian Michael Matthews sprinted to sixth place in a dramatic finale to Milan-San Remo as the first Monument of the season came down to thrilling dash for the line.
The opening three quarters of the 299km classic followed the usual script as an eight-rider breakaway headed down the road before the peloton capped their advantage at a maximum of 7’30”.
The gap began to tumble as the race past the half way point and the remains of the escapees were eventually reeled back on the slopes of the Cipressa. With a high tempo being set over the climb, no attacks materialised as the day looked set for a battle on the Poggio.
It was then a waiting game until World Champion Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick Step) made his move as the summit approached. His attack drew 11 riders clear of the pack, with Matthews digging deep to follow the accelerations over the top and onto the descent.
Several riders attempted to escape on the downhill towards Via Roma, but it was Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) who gave everyone the slip, taking advantage of a lull in the action to open up a gap. As the chasing group stalled Matthews attempted to chase and with 300 metres to go it looked like the race would come down to a reduced bunch sprint finish for victory.
However, Stuyven managed to kick again in sight of the line, just holding off the sprinting chase group behind to take the win, with Matthews battling to sixth at the end of the fastest ever edition of La Classicissima.
“I started quite far back [on the Poggio], but I eventually got to those guys [Alaphilippe and Van Aert] wheel, I knew those two were the strongest to attack on the Poggio. I knew I needed to be with them and ready to go and I could get to them and I could go with them once they attacked.
“When you saw the bunch of guys there, the sprinters that were in that bunch, I think he [Stuyven] rolled the dice with attacking and it was probably the best option for him to win the race.
“No, I’m definitely not [happy]. I came here to win, and I’ve done this race so many times now and it’s just the same thing every year unfortunately, so close yet so far. I thought this year was going to be the one, I trained super hard for this and it just didn’t work out, so I’m definitely disappointed.
Matt White (Sports Director):
“It’s disappointing in some ways, we came here to try and win the race, but we also understand that’s racing. We knew that there would be a split on the Poggio, I think a few maybe expected it to be a bit more selective, maybe five or six riders and not 12 or 13 riders.
“The best of the best arrived in front today, and in those circumstances a lot of things can happen in those last two kilometres and in the end Michael has had a very solid ride for sixth place, he’s shown that every year he comes here he’s up for the win.
“I think with the tailwind all day and the pace that INEOS rode I think that contributed to why there was such a big group. When Alaphilippe and those guys moved, only the best could follow, and Michael was part of that, and he gave himself every chance to win today.”
2021 Milan-San Remo – Results:
1. Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) 6:38:06
2. Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) ST
3. Wout van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma) ST
6. Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) ST