SAN REMO, Italy (Reuters) - Vincenzo Nibali timed his move to perfection to claim the Milan-San Remo “Monument” classic as he just held off the sprint specialists over 291km on Saturday.
The 2014 Tour de France champion snatched the first of five top one-day races — Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Tour of Lombardy — by pulling away from the pack on the ascent of the Poggio, seven km from the finish.
The Bahrain-Merida rider, the first Italian to win the “Primavera” since 2006, looked back only in the final few meters when a group of top sprinters were breathing down his neck.
Australian Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) and France’s Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ), the 2016 champion, were second and third respectively.
“I have to thank the team, who rode perfectly. I was able to hide in the group with (Sonny) Colbrelli, keeping an eye out and staying out of the wind,” Nibali said.
“When I looked over my shoulder and saw the sprinters could not catch me, it was a good moment for me, but it is too early to say if it is the best win of my career.”
Briton Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) suffered a spectacular crash, landing on his back after somersaulting after hitting a central divider.
“He did sustain a new rib fracture on the same side as the one that he damaged in the opening stage of Tirreno-Adriatico,” Dimension Data said in a statement.
“He also has bruising and abrasions consistent with the scale of the crash as well as a possible ankle ligament injury that will require further assessment once he returns home on Saturday.”
Headwinds in the ascent to the Cipressa prevented the more aggressive riders attacking and the main bunch stayed compact until the Poggio, whose base is 10 kms from the finish line.
Nibali went solo near the summit and used his outstanding descending skills to open up a 13-second gap.
He had nine seconds over the pack at the end of the descent and then rode himself into the ground to prevail by a bike length and become the first grand-tour champion to win the race since Sean Kelly in 1992.
Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ed Osmond