Cycling Daredevil Matej Mohorič Won An All-Time Duel With Gravity
4:12 PM EDT on March 22, 2022
Cycling is always a battle with gravity. Perhaps nobody in the professional peloton knows this better than Slovenian daredevil Matej Mohorič, who has a storied history of fighting gravity, and suffering a few horrible losses in the process. This past weekend, however, Mohorič decisively said "Fuck Isaac Newton" and conquered Milan-San Remo, the first Monument classic of the season, through sheer downhill bravery.
Mohorič was a prolific winner during his junior career, winning junior and U-23 World Championships in consecutive years, though he was mostly invisible when he joined the top echelon of professional cycling. After three years of languishing, he finally announced himself on the professional stage with a win at the 2017 Vuelta a España. He's been with the then-Lampre and now-Bahrain core since 2016, and he's quickly distinguished himself as one of the best breakaway riders in the peloton, mainly due to his gutsy descending skills.
Outpacing the peloton on tortuous, slick descents necessarily requires a certain tolerance of risk. You are not going to put meaningful gaps into a chase group unless you are willing to use more of the road than your pursuers, find riskier apexes on corners, and tuck into the bike to find every possible acceleration the road has to offer. Mohorič has won two Tour de France stages and one Giro d'Italia stage thanks to his fearlessness on the road; he has also suffered one of the worst crashes of the past few years.
During Stage 9 of the 2021 Giro d'Italia, Mohorič was part of a large breakaway group descending the Passo Godi when he flipped over his handlebars, landed square on his head, and tumbled into the guardrail as his bike was riven in two. He later credited his helmet with saving his life, which seems about right, and somehow he escaped with only minor injuries. Just weeks later, he burnt a lot of sympathy by echoing Lance Armstrong's infamous zipped lips gesture when he won at the Tour de France days after a doping raid against his team (the cops didn't find anything). I suppose winning after that crash and also making yourself the villain both speak to a lack of fear.
Milan-San Remo is built for speed demons like Mohorič. The first Monument of the year is infamously long, front-loaded with 270 mostly boring kilometers of racing that only serve to soften everyone up for the nervy, punchy finale. The finish tends to come down to a sprint between exhausted riders, unless someone is brave and wily enough to make something stick on the Poggio, which tops out 5.5 kilometers from the finish. This year, Mohorič was such a rider, and his race-winning move is one of the best descents in the race's history.
He almost began his assault by overcooking it, riding straight into a gutter as soon as he went clear. But he simply bunny-hopped out of trouble.
Mohorič used every available inch of road he possibly could, which helped him open up an unbridgeable gap over a group of pursuers that included the best riders in the world. What's more impressive here is that he was pretty clear with everyone about exactly what he'd be doing. The Slovenian kitted his bike out with a dropper seatpost, a device most often seen in the gnarlier disciplines like mountain and gravel racing. A dropper does what its name suggests: allows the rider to alter the position of the bike's seat to allow for more aerodynamic positions. It looks like he almost crashed in the gutter because he was checking to see if the dropper was working.
Mohorič's countryman Tadej Pogacar, who was in the front group, told reporters after the race that Mohorič warned him not to test him.
"Before the race, he 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," 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."
Nobody could match Mohorič, and no mechanical wobbles could stop him. His chain slipped off at one point, and he nearly slammed into some barriers, but he kept his head down and motored to the line alone, pointing to his seatpost at the finish.
Some riders might have been scared off of trying something so risky after nearly dying on a descent less than a year before Milan-San Remo, but clearly Mohorič is a different breed. He's not an unfeeling bike robot, either; he seems fully aware of how much he's risking. The Slovenian press reported rumors last year that he was considering an early retirement to spend time with his newborn daughter. It was logical to wonder whether Mohorič would temper his risk-taking spirit after the Giro crash, but he seems like someone who loves the thrill of racing hard too much to let go right now.