Milan-San Remo 2014: Alexander Kristoff sprints to victory as Ben Swift takes third place
By Matt Westby
Last Updated: 27/03/14 2:56pm
Britain’s Ben Swift finished an impressive third as Norway’s Alexander Kristoff sprinted to victory in another weather-affected edition of Milan-San Remo.
The 294km marathon was played out in cold and wet conditions in northern Italy and came down to a reduced-bunch finish after the majority of the leading sprinters in the field had crested the day’s pivotal final climb in contention.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) launched an early bid for the line and at one point looked on course for a repeat of his 2009 win, but the Manxman ran out of energy at the crucial moment and crossed the line sat back down in his saddle in fifth.
Kristoff (Katusha) waited longer to jump and then exploited an opening in the centre of the road to triumph by two bike-lengths from runner-up Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), who has now finished on the podium in the last four editions of the race.
Swift (Team Sky) followed closely behind in third, but will rue the fact that he was squeezed against the barrier on the left-hand side of the road by Cancellara and otherwise could have taken second, if not challenged for the victory.
As it was, Kristoff, who claimed bronze in the Olympic road race at London 2012, celebrated his second win of the season and biggest victory of his career.
He said afterwards: “I feel great. It was a fantastic victory. I didn’t really believe it until I had crossed the line that I had won Milan-San Remo. I was hoping maybe for a top-10 finish, but to win is incredible.
“A sprint after 300km is different to a sprint after 200km. Normally I don’t lose too much power if it is long. I was trying for the win and I am happy that I could take it.”
A year on from a 2013 race ravaged by snow and ice, the riders left Milan for the first Monument of the season in dry conditions, but the weather soon deteriorated as they headed towards the Mediterranean coastline.
Temperatures on the bikes became so bad that Luca Paolini (Katusha) resorted to pouring a bottle of hot tea over his hands, while other riders decided they were doing more harm than good by continuing and simply quit mid-race.
The race came to life on the penultimate climb, the Cipressa, first with a huge injection of pace from pre-race favourite Peter Sagan's Cannondale team and then an attack from Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 25km out.
The Italian opened up a gap of almost 50 seconds on the descent down the other side, but as soon as he hit the lower slopes of the final climb, the Poggio, he ran out of energy and was quickly caught.
Gregory Rast (Trek Factory Racing), Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani-CSF) and Bauke Mollema (Belkin) all tried to mount attacks on the Poggio, but they were unable to force a breakaway and a group of about 20 riders consequently crested the summit together.
While Swift was always right up at the head of the race and looking strong, Cavendish lost contact with the leaders just shy of the summit, and although he valiantly succeeded in catching back up, his effort was ultimately in vain.
1 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha, 6:55:56
2 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing, same time
3 Ben swift (GB) Team Sky, st
4 Juan Jose Lobato (Spa) Movistar, st
5 Mark Cavendish (GB) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step, st
6 Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bardiani-CSF, st
7 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step, st
8 Sacha Modolo (Ita) Lampre-Merida, st
9 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) MTN-Qhubeka, st
10 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale, st