Peter Sagan snatched the major one-day victory he has been waiting for by attacking solo and holding off an elite chasing group to claim the rainbow jersey in the men’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships.
The Slovakian rider attacked on the day’s penultimate climb, 23rd Street, and held on to his slender advantage up the final climb of Governor Street and on to the finish.
Michael Matthews (Australia) claimed second and Ramunas Navardauskas (Lithuania) rounded off the podium, while Ben Swift was the best British finisher in 22nd.
But the day belonged to Sagan after his gutsy attack proved why he had been seen as the big favourite for the gold medal, and ensures he will ride out in the rainbow bands next year.
Earlier, the early breakaway had gone clear from the flag with Ben King (USA), in front of his home fans, in the thick of the eight-man group.
The Netherlands led the chase, with Jos van Emden putting in a huge shift, and the eight leaders had been swept up with some five laps still remaining to ensure there was still plenty of attacking to come.
Taylor Phinney (USA) and Kanstantsin Siutsou (Belarus) were among the aggressors, with Guillaume Boivin (Canada) and Jarlinson Panton (Colombia) also in a move which was reeled in with 36km to go.
Ian Stannard (Great Britain) was next to try his luck, launching a bold attack and taking with him a dangerous looking group which also included Bauke Mollema (Netherlands), defending champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland) and Tom Boonen (Belgium).
Andrey Amador (Costa Rica), Dani Moreno (Spain) and Stannard’s Team Sky team-mate Elia Viviani (Italy) also made the split and with less than two laps to go they had extended their advantage to 30 seconds.
However, despite the number of big teams in the break, with the sprint teams of Germany and Australia, looking after John Degenkolb and Matthews, missing from the selection there was plenty of firepower in the chase behind.
Boonen accelerated on Libby Hill, but the chase was too strong and the race was back together for the final lap – Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) taking the bell with a small lead after pushing the pace so hard a gap formed.
Italy then took charge on the front to shut down another attack by Siutsou – looking to follow compatriot Vasil Kiryienka’s time trial victory – before the cobbles section of the course prompted more attacking.
Classics specialists Degenkolb (Germany), Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic) and Greg van Avermaet (Belgium) all tried their luck, before a select group formed as they crested Libby Hill.
But it was again back together as they hit the lower slopes of 23rd Street, prompting an attack from Sagan – who had kept out of sight for almost the entire race before launching his attack, and there was no pulling him back.
Having earnt a gap Sagan took on the descent with his trademark aggressive style and held off the chasers to win by three seconds, ensuring his first senior world championship medal is a gold one.
UCI Road World Championships 2015 – elite men’s road race: result
1) Peter Sagan – Slovakia – 6.14.37hrs
2) Michael Matthews – Australia +3”
3) Ramunas Navardauskas – Lithuania – ST
4) Alexander Kristoff – Norway
5) Alejandro Valverde – Spain
6) Simon Gerrans – Australia
7) Tony Gallopin – France
8) Michal Kwiatkowski – Poland
9) Rui Costa – Portugal
10) Philippe Gilbert – Belgium