AFP/Yuzuru Sunada

Norwegian Alexander Kristoff of the Katusha team out sprinted former champion Fabian Cancellara and Ben Swift to win the 105th edition of Milan-SanRemo on Sunday. Kristoff, taking his first victory in one of cycling’s five ‘monument’ one-day races, benefited from the good work of team-mate Luca Paolini in a 20-up dash for the finish to leave Cancellara frustrated in second with Swift in third place.

Britain’s Mark Cavendish, the winner in 2009, was fifth while fellow pre-race favorite Peter Sagan of Slovakia was 10th, just behind defending champion Gerald Ciolek of Germany. Although Kristoff’s win was a minor surprise given the presence of the likes of Cavendish, Cancellara and several other pre-race favorites in the final group, the Norwegian was quick to remind potential detractors: “I’ve already finished fourth at the Tour of Flanders and ninth at Paris-Roubaix.”

But the former Norwegian champion – who won Olympic road race bronze in London in 2012 – was quick to admit it was Paolini’s work that paved the way to his biggest win yet.The Italian kept the Norwegian sheltered on his wheel from the 1.4 km mark and in the end his relative freshness paid off. After Cavendish’s brief sprint petered out quickly, Kristoff powered to the line to beat Cancellara by
several bike lengths.

“It’s thanks to him that I won,” admitted Kristoff.

Paolini said: “We’d planned to keep Kristoff as fresh as possible for the finale and that I would try something in the final kilometers.I tried to attack on the Poggio (climb) but wasn’t successful. At the bottom of the descent I saw Alexander was in the front group and so I put everything on the line forhim.”

It is the third time Cancellara, who last won the race in 2008, has finished runner-up in the race known as ‘La Primavera’ (Spring).He admitted he was not a fan of the organizers’ decision to remove the Pompeiana climb, placed between the Cipressa and Poggio in the final 30 kilometers, that would have made it harder for the sprinters to contend victory.

“Following wheels for 250 km is not the kind of Milan-San Remo I like,” said Cancellara, whose sole win in 2008 came after he attacked solo in the final kilometers. “We needed one more climb in the finish. It was a total lottery – a lottery on the Poggio, a lottery on the descent, a lottery in the sprint!”

Swift, claiming the best classics result of his career, told teamsky.com: “It turned into a bit of a track race once we got into that final 3km. There were always guys willing to put moves in and then once it came to the sprint it was just about trying to pick the right wheel. It’s the one big race where I could see myself getting a result because normally that sort of terrain is where I’d have pretty good legs. So to go there and do that today was a really great feeling.”

Covering 294km, the longest race of the season was blighted by challenging conditions with rain and hailstones adding to the pain of nearly seven hours in the saddle. Despite the prospect of a punishing day ahead, the attacks came early and a seven-man group formed in the opening kilometers to go on and build a lead of nearly 10 minutes on the main bunch.

However the hilly finale, featuring the Cipressa and Poggio climbs, ultimately put the brakes on their hopes as the pre-race favorites began their respective bids for victory. Sagan, runner-up last year, underlined his ambitions when Cannondale team-mate Alessandro De Marchi upped the pace on the Cipressa to thin out the chasing bunch and leave several riders trailing off the back. However Cannondale ultimately failed in their bid to drop the sprinters who would normally account for Sagan in a dash for the finish line on the long home straight.

Perhaps sensing the prospect of a sprint finish, Italian all-rounder Vincenzo Nibali launched a solo attack on the Cipressa minutes later, however the Italian’s move appeared doomed. The defending Giro d’Italia champion ultimately failed to open up a significant gap and was reeled in by the peloton early on the climb to the summit of the Poggio.

An attack by Cancellara’s Trek teammate Gregory Rast on the descent prompted a series of counter-attacks. However the race, as widely expected following the removal of the Pompeiana climb that was to be situated between the Cipressa and Poggio, was ultimately settled with a group sprint, although Paolini deserved plenty of credit for Kristoff’s win.

The Italian kept the Norwegian sheltered on his wheel from the 1.4 km mark and in the end his relative freshness paid off. After Cavendish’s brief sprint petered out quickly, Kristoff powered to the line to beat Cancellara by several bike lengths. It is the third time Cancellara, who last won the race in 2008, has finished runner-up in the race known as ‘La Primavera’.

Results
1. Alexander Kristoff (NOR/Katusha) 6hr 55min 56sec
2. Fabian Cancellara (SUI/TRE) same time
3. Ben Swift (GBR/SKY) s.t.
4. Juan Jose Lobato (ESP/MOV) s.t.
5. Mark Cavendish (GBR/OPQ) s.t.
6. Sonny Colbrelli (ITA/BAR) s.t.
7. Zdenek Stybar (CZE/OPQ) s.t.
8. Sacha Modolo (ITA/LAM) s.t.
9. Gerald Ciolek (GER/MTN) s.t.
10. Peter Sagan (SVK/CAN) s.t.