Michal Kwiatkowski made history for Poland by claiming his country’s first world road race title with a solo victory in Ponferrada, Spain.
The 24-year-old attacked on the descent of the penultimate climb on the last of the 14 laps of the 18.2km circuit and held off a six-man chasing group to win by one second.
Australia’s Simon Gerrans won the sprint for silver, while Spain’s Alejandro Valverde took bronze for the third consecutive year. The 34-year-old has now stood on the World Championship podium six times, having also won bronze in 2006 and silver in 2003 and 2005, without reaching the top step.
Ben Swift finished 12th among the likes of Alexander Kristoff (Norway), John Degenkolb (Germany), Nacer Bouhanni (France) and Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) after a well-executed race from the British team.
Kwiatkowski arrived in Ponferrada on the back of a fine performance at the Tour of Britain, where the Omega Pharma-QuickStep man regularly animated the race and finished second overall.
Kwiatkowski was confident of his form and his Polish team-mates set about controlling the race early on, marshaling the front of the peloton after an early four-man break went clear.
Italy then came to the front of the bunch and contributed to the chase to bring the escapees back, prompting another move which swelled to 13 riders, including British national champion Peter Kennaugh, who was prominent throughout the race.
Tony Martin was also among the escapees and the German, who had to settle for silver behind Bradley Wiggins in Wednesday’s time trial, launched a solo attack off the front of the lead group. Back in the peloton, Australia and France came to the front having missed the move and worked to bring the break back, with Kennaugh and Giovanni Visconti (Italy) the last of the escapees to be reeled in.
Alessandro De Marchi (Italy), Cyril Gautier (France) and Michael Valgren Andersen (Denmark) then forged clear, with Vasil Kiryienka (Belarus) bridging across to form a four-man group which stayed out front until the final lap.
With the all favourites – including sprinters, puncheurs and GC men – together in the peloton and the outcome of the race still far from decided, Kwiatkowski made his move, earning a brief respite when he reached the lead group of four before eeking out his advantage on the final climb.
Gerrans, Valverde, Matti Breschel (Denmark), Greg Van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert and Tony Gallopin (France) used that ascent to form a six-man chase but Kwiatkowski held on to take an instinctive win and to cap a superb season which has also seen him win the Volta ao Algarve and Strade Bianche, as well as achieve podium finishes at La Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège.
UCI Road World Championships: elite men’s road race – result
1) Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland) – 6:29:07 hours
2) Simon Gerrans (Australia) +1″
3) Alejandro Valverde (Spain) – same time
4) Matti Breschel (Denmark) – same time
5) Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) – same time
6) Tony Gallopin (France) – same time
7) Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) +4″
8) Alexander Kristoff (Norway) +7″
9) John Degenkolb (Germany) – same time
10) Nacer Bouhanni (France) – same time