The Take Out | Milan Sanremo - Who's The King Now?
With the media bubble that encompasses modern sport, we don’t agree on much. Who’s better; Jordan or LeBron? Who’s winning the AFL premiership this year? Is the best football club in the world Real Madrid, or Barcelona? Questions like that are a conversational black hole, ready to steal your entire day.
Cycling is mostly the same, but for a few years now, we’ve had a general consensus over who the best cyclist in the world is. With the sport having so many niches, it’s hard to work out if it’s even possible to have a thing such as the “best cyclist in the world”. Peter Sagan ticks a lot of those boxes and hence has held the crown..
Sagan’s good in the very hardest of spring classics, he wins lumpy stages of races, he’s won the equal most Tour de France Green Jerseys ever (six), he outsprints the best sprinters in the world, and he’s won a week-long tour as hard as the Tour of California. Put simply, he’s really good and we haven’t had a lot of arguments as for why anyone else is even close to his level.
But on Saturday, Julian Alaphilippe took Milan Sanremo by the scruff of the neck, and it’s starting to look like we have an argument for someone else.
Let’s start with the obvious; this was only Alaphilippe’s first Monument, and overall his resume is not nowhere near as long as Sagan’s. But, Sagan didn’t win his first Monument (2016 Flanders) until he was 26, the same age Alaphilippe is now. The last two years have seen Alaphilippe go on a relentless winning streak though; this year already he has seven wins, so it’s not outrageous to think that in three more, he could have a handful of monuments and an armful of other big wins.
He is already putting together a reasonable palmares though, with a TDF KOM Jersey and multiple stages to his name, and wins in Fleche Wallonne, San Sebastian and Strade Bianche. This win shows his versatility too; Sanremo is meant to be the sprinter’s monument (though maybe we should be calling him a sprinter safter he won a bunch kick at Tirreno last week). You’d think it wouldn’t be too long before he adds Liege and Lombardia to his palmares too, and if he’s won three different monuments, that puts him amongst the greats. (Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here, but a win in Flanders wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world either).
The Frenchman has an insatiable appetite for racing, that alone makes him a dangerous proposition every time he’s on two wheels. Having the whole “descending better than anyone else, being the punchiest guy in the sport, and sprinting with the best” thing as well means that he’s got the potential to be one of the best ever.
Deceuninck-QuickStep have been the best team in cycling for a while now because they can enter a race with infinite ways of winning, and seamlessly get behind the best plan when it presents itself. Despite taking Elia Viviani into the race, yesterday was different. Unless the Italian told everyone he was on an off day with a full two hours to go, the plan was always for Alaphilippe.
Tim DeClerq rode like a madman over the Capi that dot the Italian Coastline. Gilbert, Stybar and co were riding like men possessed over the Cipressa and Poggio. Viviani was never hanging on here, and the plan was never to make sure he could. They were all in for Loulou.
Alaphilippe himself put in a masterclass ride too. He caused the initial split over the Poggio dragging nobody but the sport’s very elite with him. He controlled the race on the way into Sanremo and then opened the sprint on the Via Roma. It takes a pretty special guy to do that.
Alaphilippe is special though, in a sport devoid of personalities that cut through into the mainstream media, he’s a guy that can be exactly that. He’s a bona fide superstar.
So back to our initial question. Who’s the best cyclist in the world? It’s always hard to compare cyclists when they're different moulds, but we’re not comparing apples to oranges here, it’s probably an “apples to pears” type of situation.
We got to see those two bits of fruit in the same bowl on Saturday. Sagan’s had a bit of an interrupted lead-in with illness, but there was an obvious winner. Alaphilippe’s the hottest thing in the sport right now, oozing with talent and charisma. The day’s pretty close where we all admit he’s number one.
See you back at the social club,