SAN REMO, Italy (AFP) - Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali of the Bahrain team made a late solo break and held off a desperate chase from the pack to win the first big classic of the season the Milan-San Remo on Saturday (March 17).
The 2014 Tour de France winner, nicknamed ‘The Shark’, eliminated the sprint favourites with around 5km to go in the 294km race through north-western Italy and cruised to victory with his arms in the air as Australian Caleb Ewan and France’s Arnaud Demare led ther chasing pack over the line.
“I’m speechless,” said Nibali, who launched his attack on the Poggia hill some 7km from the finish line.
“When I knew I was 20 seconds ahead I gave it the gas.” Third-placed Demare seemed genuinely pleased for Nibali.
“I can’t say I’m disappointed, my form is there, he won it on the hill, and you should have heard the tifosi (Italian fans) cheer him when we were on the podium,” said the sprinter.
Three-time world champion Peter Sagan, the race favourite, had to settle for sixth place as the Slovak, who came second last year, once again failed to seal victory on his eighth attempt.
Defending champion Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland finished in eleventh.
Nibali’s victory ended Italy’s 11-year wait for a home winner since Filippo Pozzato in 2006.
The 33-year-old Sicilian is one of the few riders to have won the three big Tours – Giro, Tour de France and Vuelta.
But he has already won ‘Monument’ classic races notably the Tour of Lombardy.
The 109th edition of the race, which is the longest in the cycling calendar, started under the rain before the sun came out with 60km to go.
Britian’s Mark Cavendish, the 2009 winner, had a spectacular crash as he hit a bollard and flew through the air before landing hard on his back, 10km from the finish line.
Meanwhile, the race marked the debut of a video review system following the row over Sagan’s exclusion from last year’s Tour de France.
The 28-year-old was controversially kicked off the Tour for elbowing Cavendish and causing a crash.
As a result of the fall-out, governing body the UCI is introducing video technology for all major races.
An official monitored television footage from different strategically-placed cameras – fixed, on motorcycle and helicopter – to view any infractions