Milan San Remo 2012 – Tactics explained

If you haven’t had the chance to watch the race, here’s the video highlights off youtube!

I’ve been hearing/reading people criticising the way the race turned out, like how Cancellera should have gotten the win instead, or that what Gerrans did was wrong. I thought it was a really fantastic race the way it was won, a good show of tactics, and a perfect example of how the strongest or fastest don’t necessarily win.

I know some people upon watching the video would probably have criticised Gerrans harshly for being “un – sportsman or ungentlemanly” and nipped Cancellera from a victory he deserves. It should have been Cancellera’s one to take after the amount of work he did on the front yeah? After all, if it weren’t for him, the breakaway wouldn’t have succeeded?

That might seem so on the surface, but look deeper and analyse their racing tactics.

1. Nibali definitely wouldn’t have worked because he has his team’s star sprinter – Peter Sagan who was capable of a victory in the chasing peleton.

2. Gerrans had his team leader – Matt Goss (last year’s winner) in the peleton too and didn’t have to pull a turn either.

3. Cancellera did the best he could. Despite being the ‘lousier’ sprinter compared to Gerrans, he had to give it everything to make the breakaway succeed. Here’s why:

  • If the breakaway didn’t get caught, he’d be guaranteed a place on the podium and have a shot at victory.
  • If the breakaway got caught, it’s a much lower possibility that he’d manage a podium finish because of the high calibre of sprinters in the peleton (what’s left of it), and he would probably have used up too much of his energy to sprint against the rest.

Cancellera had to take a gamble. A podium spot would definitely be a better choice than finishing top 10 even! Given his time trialling and descending capabilities, he knew there was a possibility of staying away to the finish and so the logical choice would be to give it everything he had in the break. Besides, that’s what happens when you’re one of the strongest riders.

Gerrans, on the other hand, showed played a really good tactical game:

1. He followed Nibali at the right moment. Was he marking Nibali? Or did he just happen to be on his wheel? Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. He was the only one who followed Nibali.

2. He played it smart by staying behind Cancellera most of the time to save energy and knew that he didn’t have to work if he didn’t want to because his team leader was behind in the peleton.

3. He was calm even though the peleton breathing down their necks and stayed behind Cancellera’s draft all the way till the last moment before shooting past, saving lots of precious energy.

4. He knew his body well and his capabilities, and made full use of it.

Why did Nibali attacked then?

1. To force other teams to chase him to the finish so that the finishing speed would be high for his team’s sprinter without having to use their own lead out train, especially after they have used up a few teammates on the earlier climbs.

2. He’s a good climber and one of the fastest descenders in the pro peleton … so … why not?

Ultimately, it was Cancellera’s race to lose if the breakaway was gobbled up by the chasing peleton. Nibali and Gerrans both had their designated team sprinters in the peleton, both well capable of winning, while there was none for Cancellera’s team.

Remember, in racing, it’s not about who’s the strongest or fastest, it’s about who’s the smartest and freshest at the end.

If you noticed, Gerrans only took 2 turns in total when in the breakaway: one when Nibali and him were on the attack up the climb, and one on the flat after the descend when Cancellera, Nibali, and him were together. He was the one who had to use the least energy ‘breaking’ the air in front of him.

All 3 of them played the perfect tactics given their circumstance, but there can ultimately be one winner.

Now that’s a real show of professionalism, tactical nuance, and skill.

Congrats to Simon Gerrans! Yet another dark horse win!

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