Matej Mohoric: The daredevil descender who 'destroyed cycling' at Milan-San Remo – Blazin Saddles'
The first Monument of the season is the longest and arguably most dull – until everything explodes both on and off the Poggio. Slovenia’s domination of cycling continued on Saturday – though not through the usual suspects. As Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic had a relative off-day, “Plan B” Matej Mohoric used technological savvy and downhill determination to make Bahrain victorious once again.
'What a win!' - Mohoric clinches stunning Milan-San Remo triumph after late drama
As UAE Team Emirates and Jumbo-Visma fronted a stellar group of 26 riders towards the foot of the Poggio, Eurosport commentator Rob Hatch told viewers to buckle up for “the most electrifying 10 minutes of the cycling season”. He wasn’t wrong.
Tadej Pogacar’s UAE team-mates had ripped the field apart on the Cipressa and had Italians Diego Ulissi and Davide Formolo pacing their leader, who had won all three of his WorldTour races entering the 113th edition of La Classicissima. But the three authors of Jumbo-Visma’s recent Paris-Nice opening stage clean sweep – Christophe Laporte, Wout van Aert and Primoz Roglic – were all present and correct ahead of the expected fireworks as the first Monument of the season entered its final spellbinding 10 kilometres.
Another team had three riders in the move but at that point in time were not a huge part of the narrative. And yet, an earlier graphic had popped up on the screen to inform us that Bahrain-Victorious had the most top 10 finishers in the last five editions of La Primavera – six in total. With illness ruling out their leader Sonny Colbrelli – the Paris-Roubaix champion who has finished in the top 10 on four occasions on the via Roma – Bahrain-Victorious were putting their eggs in the basket of Matej Mohoric.
If a worthy basket to fill – the 27-year-old specialist descender being a rider who usually excels in long races, finishing fifth in San Remo in 2019 – then it was worth noting Mohoric’s questionable form: no win in six months, two DNFs in his previous two Monuments, and entering off the back of a nasty crash on the gravel that ended his Strade Bianche two weeks earlier.
But mighty Mohoric had a trick not so much up his sleeve as under his backside… Felix Lowe rattles through the main talking points from a wonderful edition of Milan-San Remo.
Highlights: 'Sensational' Mohoric wins Milan-San Remo with daredevil brilliance
‘The most electrifying 10 minutes of the cycling season’
For many, the thrilling climax doesn’t make up for the hours of tedium that go before. And it’s undeniable that as a spectacle Milan-San Remo has few redeeming features during its opening 250-odd kilometres.
There’s certainly a good reason why the race was not broadcast in its entirety until last year. Indeed, this year was the first time we could watch scenes play out on the Passo del Turchino – the long but gentle climb that pulls the riders up from the dour flatlands of the Po valley to the mountainous ridge along the Ligurian coast. Alterations to 2020 route meant the Turchino was bypassed last year – but until someone does a Fausto Coppi, this is a climb that will never bring much excitement.
And the same can be said, in all fairness, of the admittedly quite scenic stretch of coastal road that carries the riders westwards towards their final destination. But even newcomers to cycling’s Monuments will appreciate that you need those six hours of slow-build to earn the prize of the Poggio. It’s not just the crescendo that makes the race, but the whole picture – from riders’ feeding strategies, to their ability to perform with so many miles in the legs.
Just ask Filippo Conca, the 23-year-old Italian making his San Remo debut, who made the day’s breakaway but then cramped up on the third of the tre capi climbs, the Capo Berta, where the breakaway exploded and the pace in the pack behind went up a notch. Or Peter Sagan, for whom an untimely mechanical a little later ended his chances even before the Cipressa.
It was on the Cipressa where UAE moved their pieces into place, reducing the pack to less than 30 riders ahead of the Poggio – the raison d’etre of the entire race. Fascinating doesn’t begin to explain the series of attacks put in by Pogacar as he looked to ride to a third consecutive Monument win.
To think that it wasn’t long ago that Milan-San Remo was considered to be a sprinter’s classic. But the days of Cavendish, Kristoff and Demare glory are long gone. The Frenchman may well have still been in the 26-man leading group – along with fast finishers Giacomo Nizzolo and Biniam Grmay – but Milan-San Remo now favours the puncheurs and attackers.
Not since Demare’s 2016 win has a sprinter won La Primavera. And Mohoric ensured that that series continued – adding his name under Kwiatkowski, Nibali, Alaphilippe, Van Aert and Stuyven to a list of wins that have enthralled and caught the imagination ever since.
Is there a more thrilling finale in cycling? Both Roubaix and Flanders are celebrated for their cobbles but none of the game-changing sectors come at the death, while both Liege and Lombardia are usually won long before the dying embers of the race. Strade Bianche, the dirt road classic knocking on the door of Monumental status, has the punchy climb up to Siena, but the home straight is something of an anti-climax. Only the Mur de Huy in La Fleche Wallonne arguably packs as much of a punch as the Poggio – but it’s too one dimensional and over in a flash.
It’s amazing to think that a race like San Remo with only a handful of predictable scenarios can continue to entertain us so vigorously with its final 10 kilometres or 10 minutes. On Saturday, we knew that Pogacar would attack and, if none of those succeeded, we knew there would be a power vacuum to be exploited – a moment where someone, like Jasper Stuyven last year, would jeopardise their chances to avoid almost certainly losing in a sprint.
Wout Van Aert of Belgium and Team Jumbo - Visma climbing the Poggio di Sanremo (160m) during the 113th Milano-Sanremo 2022 a 293km one day race from Milano to Sanremo
Image credit: Getty Images
After Pogacar’s fourth failed attack, it was Soren Kragh Andersen – the Team DSM rider who tried to gatecrash Stuyven’s party 12 months earlier – who counter-punched near the summit. Pogacar followed and they were joined by Van Aert and the impressive Mathieu van der Poel, riding his first race of the season as if he’d never been away.
Leading the others over just a few seconds back was the Slovenian national champion from Bahrain-Victorious, who had lent on team-mates Damiano Caruso and Jan Tratnik to keep in contention on the climb.
“This is deciding now – take the risk or sit and sprint,” Robbie McEwen said in the commentary box as Mohoric muscled his way past the quartet and alongside his compatriot Pogacar. “Can anyone go away on the descent?” Rob Hatch asked. “If anyone can, you’ve got to guess that it’s Matej Mohoric here at the front.”
Watch hugely dramatic moment Mohoric has mechanical fault near finish
Dropper post and cojones make the difference for Mohoric
Given the size of his balls, it is any surprise that Mohoric needed to adjust the height of his saddle during his daredevil descent?
Almost instantly, Mohoric opened up a gap on Pogacar, daring him to follow. After the first of the tight hairpin bends, he put his head down as he accelerated clear, momentarily leaving the road and needing to bunny hop back from the gutter. Such a close shave would have given most riders the heebie-jeebies. Not Mohoric. The gap grew and you could almost see the cogs ticking over in Pogacar’s head as the double Tour winner decided it was wiser to let this one go, rather than risk his season with a fall into a greenhouse.
Mohoric almost left the road once again on a sweeping left-hander, but his willingness to use every inch of the tarmac while going hell for leather paid off: at the bottom he held a six-second lead and it was pretty much in the bag. But not quite: with Anthony Turgis closing in, Mohoric survived a dropped chain inside the final kilometre, keeping his cool and riding his luck to the biggest win of his career.
Crossing the line he pointed towards his crotch. At least, it looked that way. Instead of a reference to those huge cojones it was recognition to his other secret weapon: the dropper post that helped him get more aero in the descent.
Matej Mohoric of Slovenia and Team Bahrain Victorious celebrates winning during the 113th Milano-Sanremo 2022 a 293km one day race from Milano to Sanremo / #MilanoSanremo / on March 19, 2022 in Sanremo, Italy.
Image credit: Getty Images
Poetic justice for downhill destroyer Mohoric
Long before Chris Froome hugged his top tube on that famous descent off the Peyresourde into Bagneres-de-Luchon, a Slovenian who was well onto the scene before his compatriots Pogacar and Roglic had mastered this downhill technique to devastating effect.
When the UCI decided to ban the aero-tuck last year, Mohoric might well have felt aggrieved, for it was a tactic which gave the trailblazer a regular fillip and one he employed in many of his pro wins. So, it was back to the drawing board for Mohoric, who borrowed something from the mountain bike scene to give him an extra advantage on his favoured terrain of choice.
To help him get more manoeuvrability and aerodynamism going downhill, Mohoric and his mechanics installed a dropper post – a seatpost that can be raised and lowered quickly, usually via a cable-actuated remote positioned on the handlebars. In Mohoric’s case, it was a 6cm device that he used several times on the backside of the Poggio. Later, Mohoric joked to Cyclingnews:
I destroyed cycling once with the super-tuck, now I’ve destroyed cycling again. Now I think everyone will start to use dropper posts.
While the UCI have since confirmed that the equipment used by Bahrain-Victorious was within the guidelines, it remains to be seen if this piece of technology is soon banned…
'It is monumental' - Blythe and Lloyd react to Mohoric triumph at Milan-San Remo
A win for cycling
Had one of those attacks from Tadej Pogacar stuck, the 23-year-old could well have added a third Monument to his swelling palmares. As it was, Pog had to settle for fifth place – although he was front of a very long queue to congratulate his countryman on his superlative win.
“Before the race, [Mohoric] told me not to try to follow him downhill and I replied that I was aware that it would be very difficult to follow him, since I know that he is crazy when the road goes down and also having noticed that he had a seat post dropper to launch even better,” Pogacar said.
In fact, when he overtook me downhill, I saw that he was already taking big risks, drifting and even coming off the road, so I didn’t dare follow him.
Let’s be honest: as breathtaking as yet more Pogacar glory would have been, such total dominance across the board would have been pretty bad for cycling. There’s good reason why people started to boo Eddy Merckx back in his pomp: his vice-like grip on the sport was getting boring. So suffocating was Alfredo Binda in the 1920s and 30s he was paid not to ride the Giro, a race he won a record five times.
Seeing someone else win – another Slovenian, and one not called Roglic – was a welcome tonic for us all. Except Anthony Turgis.
Overjoyed Mohoric reacts to historic victory at Milan-San Remo
Slovenian domination continues – but with a twist
Former rider, current commentator, pundit and statistician deluxe, Dan Lloyd was in his element on Saturday, reminding his followers that the average distance of Mohoric’s wins in WorldTour races was a staggering 219km, rising to 230km if narrowed down to his victories in Monuments and Grand Tours.
But Lloyd also had this pearl about Slovenia’s current dominance in cycling’s major races – a stat series which, while highlighting the excellence of a certain illustrious duo, also shows that there is way more to Slovenian cycling than Pogacar and Roglic.
Mohoric’s monumental win added to Roglic’s 2020 Liege-Bastogne-Liege victory and Pogacar’s 2021 Liege-Lombardia double, those same two riders having won three Vueltas and two Tours respectively.
Adding more grist to the mill, joining Mohoric and Pogacar in the top 10 on the via Roma was Mohoric’s team-mate Jan Tratnik, who celebrated wildly along with another Bahrain-Victorious rider, Damiano Caruso, as they crossed the line following their team-mate’s victory.
Great Britain may have enjoyed their time in the sunshine with, most notably, a run of five consecutive Grand Tour wins through Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates in 2016/17. But they never enjoyed the same kind of concurrent success in the Monuments as the tiny country of 2.1 million inhabitants, cycling’s new superpower.
Matej Mohoric of Slovenia and Team Bahrain Victorious celebrates winning with his teammates Jan Tratnik of Slovenia and Damiano Caruso of Italy during the 113th Milano-Sanremo 2022 a 293km one day race from Milano to Sanremo
Image credit: Getty Images
Now bring on the ladies…
There was no Milan-San Remo Donne over the weekend, the women instead battling it out in the Trofeo Alfredo Binda with the world champion Elisa Balsamo sprinting to victory in Cittiglio. Of course, there once was a women’s San Remo – La Primavera Rosa – which ran for just seven years between 1999 and 2005. It wouldn’t surprise many to know that it only used the final 118km of the men’s race – taking in the Cipressa-Poggio-via Roma finale but doing away with the extra 165-odd kilometres that make Milan-San Remo the race that it is.
If the appetite for a women’s edition is certainly there, let’s hope that if it returns then the organisers see sense and make sure, in their choice of a route, that they could still justify giving the race the same name. Genoa-San Remo just doesn’t cut the mustard.
Balsamo leaves it late to win Trofeo Alfredo Binda