Team Sky's Michal Kwiatkowski outsprints Peter Sagan to win Milan-San Remo 2017
World champion pipped to the line after race-winning Poggio attack
Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski continued his and the team’s fine start to 2017 by outsprinting world champion Peter Sagan to win Milan-San Remo.
Former world champion Kwiatkowski, who won at Strade Bianche a fortnight earlier, followed the current world champion’s attack on the Poggio along with Julian Alaphilippe, before pipping Sagan to the line.
Sagan had done the majority of the work in the breakaway, after bursting clear on the final climb – the first time an attack there has successfully foiled the sprinters since the snow-battered 2013 edition.
But it was Kwiatkowski left to celebrate a first ever Monument win, and Team Sky – who waited six years for a victory in pro cycling’s biggest one-day races – have now won two of the last three, following Wout Poels’ Liege-Bastogne-Liege success in 2016.
And Kwiatkowski said of his victory: “Winning Milan-San Remo is an incredible feeling. I'm really thankful for my team-mates. They did an incredible job today. I didn't expect Sagan would go on the Poggio. It looked like it was leading to a bunch sprint.
“In every classic it’s better to have several cards to play. After the Cipressa, the bunch looked huge and I thought there was a 95% chance of a bunch sprint. But on the Poggio, Sagan attacked. Elia [Viviani] told me over the radio to go after Sagan.
“I’m probably in a better position than most of the other riders to race against Sagan because we’ve competed together since we were juniors. Half of the bunch thinks he’s from another planet, but I truly believe he’s beatable.
“I knew from last year that winning alone was impossible but following Sagan, yes. I left a little gap to make him launch his sprint from very far out. I’m just happy how it went."
Earlier, a ten-man breakaway had gone clear on the early part of the 291km course, but the gap had already reduced significantly with 120km still to race.
Wary of bringing it back too soon, the peloton eased a little and it took until the Tre Capi for the breakaway to start falling apart before the peloton came together on the Cipressa.
Team Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin was particularly active in the race’s finale, setting a fierce tempo on the front and also briefly escaping the clutches of the peloton as part of a small, short-lived attack.
Lotto-Soudal pair Tim Wellens and Tony Gallopin typically launched attacks too, the latter joined by Philippe Gilbert (QuickStep Floors) but again nothing stuck.
Dumoulin hit the front again on the Poggio, but it was Sagan’s attack which proved telling – the world champion attacking just before the summit and flying down the rapid descent.
Kwiatkowski and Alaphilippe spotted the move and followed, but no other riders could keep pace as they opened up a 16-second lead at the bottom.
Sagan was left to rue a lack of co-operation from Kwiatkowski and Alaphilippe, however, after the two repeatedly ignored his flicked elbows and urges to hit the front.
The Slovakian superstar’s efforts were enough to keep the trio clear but when Sagan opened up his sprint Kwiatkowski showed his tactical nous to close the gap, and throw for the line.
Just five seconds later Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) led home the peloton, with last year’s runner-up Ben Swift (UAE Team Emirates) the best placed of three Brits in that group as he came in 17th.
Former winner Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), who has been overcoming illness, led a large group over the line more than five minutes later.
Kwiatkowski adds his name to the illustrious Milan-San Remo winners list, meanwhile, with Team Sky celebrating their third major win in as many weeks with the Pole’s two one-day wins sandwiching Sergio Henao’s Paris-Nice triumph.
Milan-San Remo 2017: report
1) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Team Sky – 7.08.39hrs
2) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Bora-hansgrohe – ST
3) Julian Alaphilippe (FRA) – QuickStep Floors
4) Alexander Kristoff (NOR) – Katusha-Alpecin +5"
5) Fernando Gaviria (COL) – QuickStep Floors – ST
6) Arnaud Demare (FRA) – FDJ
7) John Degenkolb (GER) – Trek-Segafredo
8) Nacer Bouhanni (FRA) – Cofidis
9) Elia Viviani (ITA) – Team Sky
10) Caleb Ewan (AUS) – Orica-Scott
17) Ben Swift (GBR) – UAE Team Emirates +5"
38) Steve Cummings (GBR) – Dimension Data – ST
44) Alex Dowsett (GBR) – Movistar – ST