Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) accelerated late to snatch Giro di Lombardia victory, the second Monument win of his career.
The Birmingham-born Irishman stung an elite leading group, which had come together on the descent of Bergamo Alta, to beat Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) – the Spaniard’s second place enough to move back into the world number one spot.
On a revamped course, Martin – after a stunning effort to bring back the break from team-mate Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) – came from behind the leading riders to earn a gap and, after crashing on the final bend at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, this time stayed upright to get his arms in the air for the first time this season.
And after ending a disappointing year, which also saw him crash out of the Giro d’Italia on stage one in Belfast, on a high, Martin hopes his second major one-day win – after winning in Liege in 2013 – will see more follow in the coming seasons.
He said: “It has been a difficult year, After crashes in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Giro d’italia, I also crashed at the Vuelta, at a really bad moment. Even last week, at the Worlds, people fell in front of me, leaving me out of contention.
“I’ve mostly had good luck in my career, so it’s normal to have a season of bad luck. The team helped me: they really believed I could win today, so it was easier to stay motivated and train hard coming into these final races.
“I didn’t want to finish the season without a win. After the Vuelta, I really worked 100% and I wanted to win here or in Beijing, and I’ve won here, so it’s a special victory.
“I enjoy my racing, and I enjoy one-day races more than anything. I proved at the Vuelta that I can do well in three-week tours, but winning one is still a few years away.
“Anyway, there’s something about one-day racing. You start full of energy, and you end empty. You have to take risks to win. I love that kind of racing.
“I’m only 28 and I’ve already won two Monuments, so I’m just going to continue how I am and enjoy racing.”
Rolling out of Como with new world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and a former world champion, the soon-to-retire Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), in the bunch, it did not take long for a break to stick.
Eleven riders already boasted a lead of more than eight minutes as they crested the Madonna del Ghisallo – double Tour of Britain stage winner Mathias Brandle (IAM Cycling) among the biggest dangers in that move.
Their advantage had already been halved before the punishing, undulating final 80 kilometres, however, with Sergio Paulinho (Tinkoff-Saxo), Andrea Fedi (Neri-Sottoli), Jan Polanc (Lampre-Merida) and Miguel Angel Rubiano (Colombia) the four to stay clear.
Further back, a number of attacks of the front of the bunch had whittled the peloton down to size – Philip Deignan (Team Sky) among the riders to enjoy a short-lived gap before Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) looked to bridge to the leaders.
Txurruka was eventually joined by a strong counter-attack with Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Bauke Mollema (Belkin) two of the riders to make contact with him.
Only Paulinho and Fedi – who were later rejoined by Polanc – remained in front, with an ever-decreasing gap, while Katusha, Movistar and Omega Pharma-Quickstep set about leading the bunch.
The Berbenno saw the leading group splinter again, before Weening and Ben Hermans (BMC Racing) eventually earned themselves a slender lead.
It prompted a number of counter-attacks from the bunch, with Team Sky-bound Leopold Konig (Team NetApp-Endura) attempting to bridge before cramp put paid to his chances.
Kwiatkowski, perhaps feeling the effects of his efforts in Ponferrada, also succumbed to cramp as Hesjedal’s phenomenal turn on the front saw more riders shelled out the back.
Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) were among the riders who looked to go clear as Hermans and Weening were swept up on the short, but very sharp, final climb.
They were joined by an elite group, however, with Samuel Sanchez (BMC Racing) leading Martin, Valverde, Costa, defending champion Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Fabio Aru (Astana) to the front.
Martin remained hidden as the riders in front jostled for position but as Sanchez momentarily slowed to check Gilbert’s position, the Irishman seized the initiative.
Bursting clear, the remaining leaders could only look at each other – Gilbert and Valverde refusing to budge, aiding Martin’s acceleration in the process.
After a year tarnished with bad luck, it was by no means over at that point, but Martin showed little nerves as he powered through the final bends on the technical run-in.
Checking over his shoulder, he was greeted by the sight of a small gap – enough for him to raise his arms in celebration.
Just behind, Valverde led the bunch over the line to ensure he overtakes Vuelta a Espana champion Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) in the world rankings, while Costa snatched the final podium spot.
Giro di Lombardia 2014: result
1) Dan Martin (IRL) – Garmin-Sharp – 6.25.33hrs
2) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +1”
3) Rui Costa (POR) – Lampre-Merida – ST
4) Tim Wellens (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol
5) Samuel Sanchez (ESP) – BMC Racing
6) Michael Albasini (SUI) – Orica-GreenEDGE
7) Philippe Gilbert (BEL) – BMC Racing
8) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha
9) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana
10) Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +14”