Rider of the week
Three years ago, John Degenkolb made his debut in Milan-Sanremo, and Erik Zabel – a four-time winner of the race – tipped him for greatness, after the young rider finished 5th. In comparison with Peter Sagan, the German wasn’t overhyped and overwhelmed by the fans, media and pundits, instead enjoying some peace and quiet during his first years in the pro peloton, which helped him have a nice and steady development, in a team that made a name for itself of the way it nurtures young talents.
During these seasons, John Degenkolb emerged as one of the fastest men in the bunch and scored 35 wins (10 of these coming in the Grand Tours), but more important, he showed he is much more than a sprinter, his victories in Paris-Tours, Vattenfall Cyclassics and Gent-Wevelgem underlining his huge potential for the Classics, races in which the Germans were searching for a leader, after years and years of disappointments.
In 2015, Giant-Alpecin’s rider was one of the cyclists expected to make the transition from contender to winner of a Classic, but after a good start at the Dubai Tour, things didn’t go as he had hoped in Paris-Nice. Degenkolb failed to get a stage win in the French race, and because of that he was kind of flying under the radar at the start of “La Primavera”, as everyone was talking of Alexander Kristoff, Michael Matthews, Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan.
This didn’t bother the German, who came in Milan-Sanremo determined to leave his mark on the race and to shrug off the disappointment of last year, when he punctured just as the peloton was beginning to ride up the Poggio. This time, Degenkolb had a smooth race, at the end of which he showed not only that he’s one of the strongest Classics guys out there, but also one of the most intelligent, as he let Alexander Kristoff accelerate and then timed his sprint to perfection, surpassing the 2014 winner in the last 50 meters.
Without any doubt, the 106th Milan-Sanremo is the first of many Monuments wins in John Degenkolb’s career, the 26-year-old looking poised to be one of the main protagonists for many more seasons from now on. For the moment, he savours his huge victory, one thanks to which he has sent a warning message to his rivals, pointing out that he’s ready for the next two big appointments: the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.