Wout van Aert wins thrilling Milan-San Remo
Belgian rising star pips last year's winner Julian Alaphilippe to back up his victory in last weekend's Strade Bianche with Peter Sagan fourth
The first Monument of the delayed 2020 road cycling season has gone to Wout van Aert after a thrilling finish to the Milan-San Remo on Saturday (8 August).
Reigning champion Julian Alaphilippe launched a big attack on the closing Poggio climb but van Aert folllowed him and caught him on the descent.
With the chasing pack closing, the pair just stayed in front and it was the Belgian who just came home in front by half a wheel to follow up his victory in last weekend's Strade Bianche and emulate Alaphilippe's double from last year.
Michael Matthews was two seconds further behind with 2019 runner-up Peter Sagan fourth as his wait for an elusive victory in 'La Classicissima' continues.
"I'm super happy. I can't believe I've taken these these two victories in a row. I don't have words actually. I know everyone says that when they win a Monument but to start the second part of the season like this, it's crazy." - Wout van Aert talking to Eurosport
Van Aert sprints to victory
The first Monument of the year was even longer and harder than usual with the riders embarking on a 305km race after a 10km neutral zone.
The route was more inland than usual, meaning more climbing, with the field only joining the coastal road just over 30km from home.
And teams were permitted just six riders instead of the usual seven with organisers adding two Italian pro teams only last week to help them out with the lack of racing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There was an early seven-man breakaway which established a lead of seven minutes at one point.
With 85km to go, Matteo Trentin was forced to abandon after crashing but he managed to walk into the ambulance unaided and even wave to a TV camera as he did so.
For a while, it looked like the breakaway might stay clear but the big teams eventually got to work and Manuele Boaro was the last man to be caught 35km from the finish.
Alaphilippe had to change his bike just before then due to a puncture, and it was Daniel Oss who attacked on the descent of the Cipresse some 15km from home to try and set up the race for BORA-Hansgrohe team-mate Sagan.
The other outfits were wise to the move and Deceuninck-QuickStep soon gave Alaphilippe a platform to make his bid for victory on the Poggio.
But van Aert, one of the pre-race favourites along with fellow Cyclocross convert Mathieu van der Poel, clawed him back before showing greater strength in the closing metres to seal his first Monument triumph.
Reigning Olympic road race champion Greg van Avermaet was eighth ahead of veteran Monument specialist Philippe Gilbert.
Speaking just after crossing the line, Van Aert was full of praise for Alaphilippe's victory bid
He told Eurosport, "Julian played it really well, he put me on the front, and I needed to keep a bit of speed because the bunch was coming back.
"It was hard to do the right pace and still keep something for the sprint but in the end it was enough, because it was only half a wheel."
The 25-year-old has made a spectacular start to the delayed 2020 campaign, stealing the limelight from his old Cyclocross rival van der Poel who was 13th on the day.