Michael Matthews put in a valiant effort in just his second race day of the season to sprint to 7th place at the opening monument of the season, Milano-Sanremo today, following a fractured shoulder just last month.
Michael finished within the select front group that formed over the final climb of the Poggio, racing for second place behind a solo escapee who broke clear on the climb and managed to hold of the chasers by just a matter of metres.
The 294km race got off to a steady start with a group of nine riders, with the peloton content to sit back behind and let the break extend their lead to up to seven minutes. As the race hit halfway the break started to be reeled in gradually, with the catch looking likely with just 25″ separating the front group and the final 4 out front at 35km to race.
On the first of the two decisive climbs of the race, the Cipressa, the remaining breakaway riders were swallowed up, setting up a final fight on the climb of the Poggio where one rider would hold a slender gap over the top before extending this on the descent into Sanremo. The final few flat kilometres to the line set up a nail-biting finish where the remaining riders in the front group, including Michael, were unable to bring the escapee back before the line.
Nikias Arndt was the main loss for the team during the race, abandoning at the feed zone after completing his job in the early part of the race, while not feeling at full health.
After the race Team Sunweb coach Marc Reef said: “We had a pretty rainy day today with a sunny end which is what it should be at Sanremo actually. We had a goal to get a result with Michael and I think we did everything that we could have done today – always in position with Michael, and the team working as they should for this. Nikias was there until the first feed zone, then Roy took over before Edward took Michael into position for the Cipressa.
“Over the Cipressa we still had five guys there in position towards the Poggio. At the end when Nibali went he soon got a gap. The bunch didn’t react immediately and Tom was doubting a little too, then Nibali got the gap he needed. In the final we did what we could to close the gap. Michael started the sprint but it was a bit too early and five guys came past him. All in all I think we can be happy with the result – of course we always hope for more, but still 7th place at Sanremo is not bad.”
Michael added: “I think it was a good day. For my second race of the season the feelings are really good and my shoulder felt OK today which is already a big improvement from the last few days. I think we rode a really good race but we were hoping for a bit more speed on the Cipressa and Poggio, but with the headwind it made the race hard for the pure sprinters.
“I tried to place an attack on the Poggio but it wasn’t enough to make a difference. I then started the sprint and maybe went a bit early but I thought all or nothing to catch Nibali and go for the win. I had good legs and I tried, so all-in-all its a good day and I can look forward to the next races.”