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The Pole on a roll: Kwiatkowski wins Milan-San Remo

Sky's Strade Bianche winner pips Sagan in sprint

Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland/Sky) took his first career Monument Classics win on Saturday, triumphing in Milan-San Remo two weeks after claiming his second Strade Bianche title. Kwiatkowski beat Peter Sagan and Julian Alaphillipe in a three-man sprint. Sky has now won three of the last four WorldTour events.

The riders had 291-km to ride, with the famed 5.6-km Cipressa and 3.6-km Poggio climbs in the final 28-km before a twisting descent past the greenhouses to the final scrap on the Via Roma.

There were six former winners in the field: Filippo Pozzato, Mark Cavendish, Simon Gerrans, Alexander Kristoff, John Degenkolb and Arnaud Démare. However, the favourites were the irrepressible Sagan and Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria, who was nursing a sore right hand suffered in a training crash.

Right from the flag, a breakaway of 10 scampered up the road, Cannondale-Drapac the only squad with two riders among the escapees. One of them, Latvian winner of the 2014 Tour de Beauce Toms Skujiņš, managed to livetweet his experience.

After an hour of racing the fugitives held a 4:00 gap. Quick Step and FDJ controlled the pace of the peloton in the wind. Cipressa and Poggio might be the most famous and decisive climbs of M-SR, but the longest is the 25.8-km Passo del Turchino peaking with 149-km to go.

The break’s lead kept going out and retracting. Quick Step had the peloton strung out before Dimension Data came forward with about 100-km to go.

Before the Cipressa-Poggio skirmishes came three hills, the Capos: Mele, Cervo and Berta, starting with 60-km remaining. The break hit the Mele with 2:00 over the peloton. Hills and kilometres began to show in the riders’ legs. On the Cervo, with the bunch 1:10 in arrears, Frenchman Alexis Gougeard (FDJ) attacked in an attempt to bridge but to no avail.

The positioning battle in the peloton was key, as every team wanted their likely lads up front. Sonny Cobrelli’s Bahrain-Merida led the field up the Cipressa with the crumbled break 30-seconds up the road. Katusha and Cofidis grabbed the reins. Yet another red-clad team, Lotto-Soudal, showed up too.

With 26-km to go the remaining fugitives were brought to heel. The peloton exploded behind. A strong move containing Greg van Avermaet, Philippe Gilbert and Lotto-Soudal’s Tim Wellens flared away, but as soon as the group compacted again, Wellens went again. Niklas Arndt (Germany) lassoed him for Sunweb. Cavendish fell away.

Near the top of the Cipressa, Tom Dumoulin was killing it for Sunweb. At the crest, the action had streamlined the peloton to 50-60 riders. Tony Gallopin (France/Lotto-Soudal) attacked on the descent, drawing Gilbert. Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe closed it up and some riders were able to come back to the group.

It was time for the Poggio, which peaks 5.5-km from the finish line. Tom Boonen led his Quick Step outfit towards its foot before Trek-Segafredo and Sky took over.

Dumoulin once more drove the train but couldn’t shed anyone. As soon as Dumoulin swung away, Sagan attacked. Kwiatkowski and Alaphilippe reached the world champion before the descent.

BMC and Bahrain-Merida chased as the race dashed down past the greenhouses. With 3-km to go the trio had a 14-second gap, a lead that grew over the next kilometre. But at the flamme rouge the gap had come down again. Alaphillipe wouldn’t work, with teammate Gaviria in mind.

Sagan started his sprint early, but he couldn’t hold off Kwiatkowski, who came around his left side. The Polish world champion of 2014 also has an Amstel Gold and E3 Harelbeke on his palmares. It was the second time that Sagan was runner-up at Milan-San Remo. Third place is Alaphillipe’s second best Monument result after coming runner-up in the 2015 Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Lone Canadian entrant Hugo Houle was 84th, his best ever Monument Classic finish.

The next WorldTour one-day race is Wednesday’s Dwars Door Vlaanderen, a new edition to the calendar.

2017 Milan-San Remo

1) Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland/Sky) 7:08:39
2) Peter Sagan (Slovaki/Bora-Hansgrohe) s.t.
3) Julian Alaphilippe (France/Quick Step) s.t.
84) Hugo Houle (Canada/AG2R) +3:55