Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski stunned world champion Peter Sagan in a thrilling three-up sprint to win the 108th Milan-San Remo on Saturday.
Team Sky’s Kwiatkowski, the 2014 world champion, claimed his first La Classicissima after launching his sprint late to stun Sagan at the finish in San Remo.
Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe of Quick-Step Floors finished close behind to claim a well-deserved podium place on his debut after 291 km of racing from Milan.
“I’m very happy, although I actually didn’t expect to win,” said Kwiatkowski, who had been scheduled to work for teammate Elia Viviani and help set the Italian up for a winning sprint. “I won Strade Bianche recently, and now to come and win La Primavera is just ... incredible.”
Fresh from winning two stages at the Tirreno-Adriatico, Bora-Hansgrohe’s Sagan started Milan-San Remo as the man to beat from a quality-packed sprint field that included 2014 champion Alexander Kristoff of Team Katusha-Alpecin, 2015 winner John Degenkolb of Trek-Segafredo and Frenchman Arnaud Demare of FDJ, who stunned the field to triumph last year.
Kristoff went on to finish fourth at five seconds in arrears and at the head of a chasing bunch featuring Colombian fast man Fernando Gaviria of Quick-Step Floors, Demare, Degenkolb, Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni of Cofidis and Viviani.
Despite leaving all his rivals behind after a decisive attack on the Poggio 6km from the finish, Sagan suffered the misfortune of taking Kwiatkowski with him when the Pole counterattacked with Alaphilippe.
A “long” sprint on the home straight then left the Slovakian short of juice in the final meters when Kwiatkowski appeared from behind his wheel to snatch victory at the line.
“He actually made the race, but when he escaped, I knew we absolutely had to catch him,” Kwiatkowski said when asked about Sagan’s performance
Having built a decisive lead on the chasing peloton during the technical descent toward the final, flat 2km, Sagan led into the final kilometer, but the Bora-Hansgrohe rider took the risk of launching his sprint nearly 350m from the finish, giving Kwiatkowski the chance to follow his wheel and overtake him in the final meters.
The pair almost crashed as an off-balance Sagan wavered, but there was a quick handshake. Sagan and Kwiatkowski have been beating each other on and off for the best part of 10 years.
It was Sagan’s second runner-up place after his second behind Germany’s Gerald Ciolek in 2013, but in trademark fashion he brushed off the defeat.
“I’ve got used to second here, though I was expecting something different,” Sagan said. “The final went as it did. Both of them took relays with me, but I thought I had the legs to go for a long sprint. The results don’t matter. It’s important to give the fans a bit of a show.”