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John Degenkolb triumphs in Milan-San Remo

John Degenkolb of Giant-Alpecin won the Monument Milan-San Remo race Sunday, the seventh German victory in 106 editions. Degenkolb nosed ahead of 2014 champion Alexander Kristoff (Norway/Katusha) on the Via Roma to take the biggest win of his career.

The skies were dreary, the roads wet and the riders gloomy in their snoods and earwarmers as they negotiated the long neutralized zone out of Milan. Soon an eleven-rider breakaway including double Giro d’Italia stage winner Stefano Pirazzi (Italy/Bardiani-CSF) formed and pulled out a maximum gap of 11:00, reduced to 6:45 by the long drag of the Passo Del Turchino at the midway point of the 293 km.

Katusha did most of the pace-making in the peloton, but Lampre, Trek, Tinkoff-Saxo and Etixx-QuickStep all chipped in as the rain slackened, a tailwind blew and the race headed toward the five cima that started with 52 km remaining. The riders all took care to eat and drink steadily, as they would be in the saddle for around seven hours.

The first of the five climbs was the Capo Mele, 3 km at 8.1 per cent. It was business time. The rain stopped before the intrepid 11 scooted up the steep little clamber. Back in the peloton, the riders removed a layer or two. When the escapees hit the foot of the Mele, their gap was down to 3:00. Sky joined Tinkoff at the front of the bunch. Sebastian Molano (Colombia/Colombia) was the first fugitive to drop away. Over the top, Lotto-Soudal took its pull at the front of the peloton.

After the three capos, there were 14 km before the Cipressa, the penultimate climb. Both the breakaway and the peloton were whittled down by the end of the capos and the gap was 1:10. Crashed haunted the bunch as it descended the last capo. A crash helped three Sky men slip away from the peloton and create a chase trio, with only Matteo Bono (Italy/Lampre) left at the head of the course. Bono made it onto the Cipressa as the Sky trio and the remnants of the break pressed behind.

The attacks began to dart out from the peloton. Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium/BMC) and Zdeněk Štybar (Czech Republic/Etixx-QuickStep) snagged the Sky chase just before it scooped up Bono. But it all came together again with Sky continuing to push the pace. Nacer Bouhanni (France/Cofidis) and Kristoff fell off.

In a long, garish serpent, the peloton descended the Cipressa—the famous greenhouses appearing on the roadside—and snaked toward the Poggio, the final climb. Danile Oss (Italy/BMC) slipped away with 17 km to go and was soon joined by Geraint Thomas (Great Britain/Sky). Oss and Thomas held onto a gap of 17 seconds as the race hit the Poggio, 3.7 km of 3.7 per cent average.

Before the 65-rider peloton brought the fugitives to heel, Thomas left his breakmate. Katusha chased the Brit. Philippe Gilbert (Belgium/BMC) and Štybar counterattacked, followed by Van Avermaet. Mark Cavendish (Great Britain/Etixx), André Greipel (Germany/Lotto-Soudal) and Vincenzo Nibali (Italy/Astana) dropped off the back.

Thomas, Avermaet, Peter Sagan, Alejandro Valverde, Michael Matthews and Fabian Cancellara descended at the front of the peloton. World champion Michal Kwiatkowski, Štybar, Gilbert and 2013 champion Gerald Ciolek crashed with Ciolek spiking his helmet like a football in frustration.

Thirty-five men went under the red kite with Luca Paolini (Italy/Katusha) leading for Kristoff. Kristoff opened his sprint early against the right barrier, but Degenkolb came around to take a huge victory. Michael Matthews (Australia/Orica-GreenEdge) was third.

Sole Canadian entrant Dominique Rollin (Cofidis) was one of 39 riders who did not finish.

2015 Milan-San Remo
1) John Degenkolb (German/Giant-Alpecin) 6:46:16
2) Alexander Kristoff (Norway/Katusha) s.t.
3) Michael Matthews (Australia/Orica-GreenEdge) s.t.