Vincenzo Nibali timed his move to perfection to claim the Milan-San Remo “Monument” classic as he just held off the sprint specialists over 291 kilometres on Saturday.
The 2014 Tour de France champion snatched the first of five top one-day races — Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Pris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne Liege and Tour of Lombardy — after pulling away from the pack in the ascent of the Poggio, seven kilometres from the finish.
The Bahrain-Merida rider, the first Italian to win the “Primavera” since 2006, looked back only in the final few metres when a group of top sprinters were breathing down his neck.
Australian Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) and France’s Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ), the 2016 champion, were second and third respectively.
Briton Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) suffered a spectacular crash, landing on his back after somersaulting after hitting a central divider.
Head winds in the ascent to the Cipressa prevented the more aggressive riders attacking and the main bunch stayed compact until the Poggio, whose base is 10 kilometres from the finish line.
Nibali went solo near the summit and used his outstanding descending skills to open up a 13-second gap.
He had nine seconds over the pack at the end of the descent and then rode himself to the ground to prevail by a bike length and become the first grand-tour champion to win the race since Sean Kelly in 1992. (Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Neville Dalton)