SAN REMO, Italy — Everyone was expecting it to be an uphill attack from two-time Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar to decide the Milan-San Remo race.
Turned out it was a risky, high-speed downhill attack from Matej Mohorič, another Slovenian rider, that proved to be the winning move in the spring classic.
Following four unsuccessful attacks from Pogačar on the way up the Poggio, the short but steep climb shortly before the finish of the lengthy 293-kilometer (182-mile) route, Mohorič accelerated almost as soon as the twisty descent started.
Leaning dangerously into the sharp turns on the serpentine route, Mohorič quickly created a small gap ahead of a small group that included Pogačar, Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel – three of the most accomplished current riders in the sport.
Mohorič, who rides for the Bahrain Victorious team, was cutting so many corners that both of his wheels skidded at one point. Somehow, though, he remained upright, and established a lead of five seconds by the end of the descent, with 2.2 kilometers (1.4 miles) to go.
There was another moment that could have led to panic when Mohorič’s chain came loose on the flat, finishing straight but he managed to overcome that, too, and had time to celebrate before crossing the line on Via Roma.
French rider Anthony Turgis and Van der Poel finished second and third, respectively, both two seconds behind.
Michael Matthews came fourth and Pogačar ended up fifth, also two seconds behind.
The 27-year-old Mohorič also claimed two stages in last year’s Tour de France and has won one stage in both the Giro d’Italia and Spanish Vuelta.
“I was thinking about this race for the entire winter,” Mohorič said. “I knew that if I could train properly over the winter, and try to be in a good enough condition to not be dropped on the Poggio, and be with the best guys over the top that I would have a chance of doing my best descent and risking a little bit but being able to hang on for the win.”
Mohorič used a specially designed moveable seat more often seen in mountain biking so he could gain more control of his bike on the descent.
“The team set up a bike for me and we had this plan for a long, long time now,” he said.
The Milan-San Remo is the first of the five “monument” races in the cycling season. The others are the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Lombardia.