In His Own Words: Neil Stephens on Milan-Sanremo

Mon 18 Mar 2013

Gerald Ciolek (MTN Qhubeka) won a shortened version of Milan-Sanremo. The German sprinter delivered a historic victory for the first African team to race the Italian classic. Oft-referred to as ‘La Primavera’, Milan-Sanremo delivered anything but spring-like conditions. Freezing, snowy conditions forced race organizers to stop, restart, neutralise and reroute the race. In his own words, Sport Director Neil Stephens details the day. 

Today became less about the course or the distance or the tactics and more about who could handle the elements – for our team, anyway. When the boys got on the bus after the race was stopped in Ovada to bypass the Turchino, it was clear that the race had gone for 10-15 kilometres too long. We were in really bad shape. The boys where shaking and shivering. I heard from a few other teams that they had riders that were shaking so badly they had fallen off their bikes.

I felt really sorry for the boys. I wanted to tell them not to worry about it – to get off and stay off the bike. Instead, I had to do the opposite. I had to give them warm tea and food, encourage them to take warm showers and get them mentally prepared to go out there again. It was hard on my team and hard on the whole peloton.

Someone on Twitter asked us what sort of mental adjustments were required for the restart. First, they had to get beyond the cold. They had to get warmed up before we could even start talking about the race again. Then, they had to come to recognize that the torment wasn’t yet over, that they would be getting back out there in two hours to start this whole thing all over again. When they wrapped their minds around that, we could start to mentally prepare for the second half of the race.

Once we everyone had warmed up, we began to adjust our tactics. Then, the restart was pushed back twice. Le Maine was removed from the route. Gossy [Matt Goss] had been involved in a crash about ten minutes prior to arriving back at the team bus. He hurt his leg, and we realized it was getting worse the longer he sat around. Between the constant changes and Gossy's fall, there wasn’t much tactic left. It became a race for the opportunists. At the end of our meeting, I said to them ‘Someone is going to win – why can’t it be us?’ and then I sent them back out there.

All of our riders started the race for the second time. Gossy wasn’t able to last too long. Once we got down to the coast, it was cold and uncomfortable, but there was no doubt we’d keep racing. We rallied around [Daryl] Impey, Gerro [Simon Gerrans] and Sebastian [Langeveld]. Sebastian was able to deal with the cold a bit better than Impey and Gerro. It’s one hour after the race at this point, and those two are still shivering and shaking on the bus. Gerro lost contact when the pace heated up over the Cipresso, and Impey fell off around there, too.

Sebastian stayed in the bunch over the Cipresso and Poggio. We’re happy to see that he's showing good form ahead of the Belgium classics where he really wants to shine.

Hats off Team MTN Qhubeka on taking their biggest win yet. The team from South Africa shares some similarities with ORICA-GreenEDGE. We like to see a new team making their mark in this sport.