What comes after dark horse? The name Gerald Ciolek wasn’t on anybody’s list of potential winners for Milan-San Remo.
The man had barely won a thing since 2009 when he rode for that fabulously underachieving squad Milram. Then he put in a disappearing act for a year with Quick-Step before falling off the map with MTB Qhubeka team from South Africa. We didn’t expect to see Ciolek on a podium every again except in some obscure race in Serbia or Ecuador.
Instead, Ciolek pulls off the biggest win of his career, winning the first classic of the season, knocking off overwhelming favorite Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard).
“It’s unbelievable,” said Ciolek after crossing the finish line. “This is an unbelievable success for us and just an incredible day. We just came here as a wildcard and now we’re standing here with the trophy. This is great. I knew I had to follow all the best riders on the Poggio and it worked out perfectly.”
It was a shocker result in what became a crazy race. Snow took out the Turchino and La Manie climbs. Tom Boonen was so disgusted with events that he pulled the plug in protest. Vincenzo Nibali went into hypothermia and called it quits. Tyler Farrar had his usual bad luck and crashed out. There was a two hour break after Act 1 before the 130K Act 2 got underway. Race radio couldn’t decide who abandoned and who did not, calling Taylor Phinney and eventual fourth place rider Sylvain Chavanel out of the race.
Meanwhile Ciolek was doing what all underdogs do if they want to pull off an astounding victory against long odds: stay invisible. Like Nick Nuyens victory in Flanders a few years back, the German followed all the right moves, did the bare minimum of work and struck in the final seconds.
MTN-Qhubeka received a wild card invite for Milan San Remo and Ciolek was certainly a wild card winner. He made the select group of seven on the descent of the Poggio. The group contained Cancellara, Sagan, Chavanel. Stannard, Paolini, the sneaky Ciolek and Taylor Phinney who blasted in at the last minute.
We had our money on Chavanel who had been aggressive all day and consistently broke the race in pieces. Really, the podium should have been the Frenchman on top, followed by Sagan and Cancellara but Ciolek delivered the upset win for a team that was just happy to be in the race.
The critics will say that Sagan went too early but he’d done everything to perfection. He’d beaten Cancellara and Chavanel and Gilbert and Nibali and Cavendish and every single favorite and dark horse contender.
It simply never occurred to him that the invisible man on his wheel was the most dangerous. A snow-covered and rain soaked chapeau, Gerald Ciolek.