Michal Kwiatkowski, for the second time in a fortnight, made the headlines for all the right reasons on Saturday after prevailing in an Italian one-day race in to lift the gloom surrounding Team Sky.
In Siena two weeks ago Kwiatkowski escaped from a select group before soloing to victory at Strade Bianche. On Saturday, though, the 26-year-old waited until the final metres before overhauling world champion Peter Sagan on the line to claim his first – and Team Sky's second – monument at Milan-Sanremo.
In a race that many – from Moreno Argentin through to Mark Cavendish – have said is “the easiest to finish, but the hardest to win", a strong group of riders appeared set to go head-to-head in a bunch sprint finish on Via Roma in Sanremo as they climbed towards the summit of the Poggio, the final climb of the 291 kilometre race.
With Team Sky appearing to be in control on the front of the bunch, seemingly working on behalf of Italian sprinter Elia Viviani, pre-race favourite Sagan attacked around 6km from the finishing line as the road ramped up towards the top of the Poggio before Kwiatkowski and Julian Alaphilippe chased down the Slovakian's wheel.
While Sagan led the trio towards the finishing line, Kwiatkowski and Alaphilippe let the world champion do all the work despite the 27-year-old flicking his elbow to signify he wanted one of the pair to take over on the front. With the finishing line closing in, most were expecting Sagan to become the first rider since Giuseppe Saronni in 1983 dressed in the rainbow bands of the world champion to win the opening monument of the season. However, Kwiatkowski, himself a former world champion, had the final say in a gripping finale to the longest race on the calendar.
After seven hours eight minutes and 39 seconds, Kwiatkowski nicked the win from Sagan following a desperate final lunge that required a photo-finish while Alaphilippe rounded off the podium in third.
"Winning Milan-Sanremo is an incredible feeling I'm really thankful for my team-mates, Kwiatkowski told the Team Sky website afterwards. "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.
"I felt pretty strong and it was amazing to be there with Sagan and Alaphilippe. I tried to focus to do my best sprint. It's unbelievable."
Milan-Sanremo race preview
What is this race and why should I care about it?
Milan-Sanremo, or la classica di Primavera (the spring classic), is the first of five 'monuments' of the season – the others being Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia – and is one of the longest one-day races in world cycling, at 291 kilometres.
The late Tom Simpson became the first British rider to win the Milan-Sanremo in 1964 when he outwitted France's Raymond Poulidor on the final Poggio climb before claiming his first monument of cycling. Mark Cavendish became the second Briton to have a Milan-Sanremo on his palmarès after outsprinting Heinrich Haussler to the line in 2009.
Unsurprisingly, the Italians have dominated the race since its inception in 1907 where they have won 50 of the 107 races. Despite their domination of the race, Filippo Pozzato was the last Italian to have triumphed in Sanremo (2006).
But why, you may be asking, should you care about Milan-Sanremo? Put simply it is one of the biggest one-day races of the season. After some decent racing in the European heartlands of cycling – Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne, Strade Bianche, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico – the race marks, what is for many, the high-point of a very long WorldTour calendar: the start of the classics season.
When is Milan-Sanremo?
The eighth WorldTour race of the season – and its fourth one-day race following the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Strade Bianche – gets under way at 10.10am (9.10am GMT) on Saturday March 18, 2017.
How long is this year's race?
Milan-Sanremo is a whopping 291 kilometres long.
How can I watch this year's race?
Those lucky enough to have subscriptions to Eurosport can follow all the action on British Eurosport2 with coverage running from 1.15pm (GMT) through to the race's conclusion at around 4pm.
What's in it for the winner?
The winner will trouser a cheque – or possibly a bank transfer to the same value, we have not asked race organisers RCS Sport – to the value of €20,000 while the second-placed rider gets €10,000 and the rider on the third step of the podium €5,000. Each rider in the top 20 will take home something, even if it's only €500. Here's the full breakdown . . .
With Milan-Sanremo being a WorldTour race, there will also be points on offer that will go towards a riders' overall rankings . . .
What teams will ride Milan-Sanremo?
As is the case with all WorldTour races, each of the 18 teams that make up the top-flight of professional cycling – Ag2r-La Mondiale, Astana, Bahrain-Merida, BMC Racing, Bora-Hansgrohe, Cannondale-Drapac, Dimension Data, FDJ, Katusha-Alpecin, Lotto–Soudal, Lotto NL-Jumbo, Movistar, Orica-Scott, Quick-Step Floors, Team Sky, Trek-Segafredo, Sunweb and UAE Team Emirates – receive an invite.
In addition to all WorldTour teams, race organisers have offered five wildcard places to Androni Giocattoli, Bardiani-CSF, Cofidis Solutions Crédits, Gazprom-Rusvelo, Nippo-Vini Fantini, Novo Nordisk and Wilier-Selle Italia who have all, unsurprisingly, accepted the invitation.
And who is Telegraph Sport tipping?
Of all the one-day races in the WorldTour calendar, Milan-Sanremo is possibly the hardest to predict, or as Cavendish told Cycling Weekly earlier this week: “It’s the easiest to finish, but the hardest to win".
Though referred to by some as the 'sprinters classic', Milan-Sanremo is a race that suits those able to get over the Cipressa and Poggio climbs towards the business end of the race after almost seven hours in the saddle and keep something in the legs for one final push.
Should the leading group hold itself together for the final roll-in along Via Roma, then a rider in the mould of Cavendish, Ben Swift, Elia Viviani, Nacer Bouhanni, Caleb Ewan or defending champion Arnaud Démare would be perfectly suited to the fast finish following the descent off the Poggio.
That said, bigger riders such as Alexander Kristoff, John Degenkolb or Greg van Avermaet must not be discounted. Then, of course, there's world champion Peter Sagan who is in blistering form having won Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne and two stages at Tirreno-Adriatico.
Who are the bookmakers' favourites for the race?
- Peter Sagan: 9/2
- Fernando Gaviria: 9/2
- Arnaud Démare: 12/1
- Alexander Kristoff: 12/1
- John Degenkolb: 12/1
- Mark Cavendish: 18/1
- Nacer Bouhanni: 15/1
- Sonny Colbrelli: 18/1
- Michael Matthews: 18/1
- Greg van Avermaet: 28/1
- Odds (as of March 14, 2017) from www.bet365.com
Who do you think will win Milan-Sanremo?
What does the provisional startlist look like?
- WorldTour riders only
Ag2r-La Mondiale: Gediminas Bagdonas (Lit), Jan Bakelants (Bel), Nico Denz (Ger), Mathias Frank (Swi), Alexis Gougeard (Fra), Quentin Jauregui (Fra), Hugo Houle (Can), Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel).
Astana: Matti Breschel (Den), Oscar Gatto (Ita), Andriy Grivko (Ukr), Truis Engen Korsaeth (Nor), Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz), Ruslan Tleubayev (Kaz), Luis León Sánchez (Spa), Michael Valgren (Den).
Bahrain-Merida: Manuele Boaro (Ita), Grega Bole (Slo), Niccolo Bonifazio (Ita), Borut Bozic (Slo), Sonny Colbrelli (Ita), Enrico Gasparotto (Ita), Franco Pellizotti (Ita), Giovanni Visconti (Ita).
BMC Racing: Damiano Caruso (Ita), Silvan Dillier (Swi), Martin Elmiger (Swi), Daniel Oss (Ita), Manuel Quinziato (Ita), Miles Scotson (Aus), Greg van Avermaet (Bel), Francisco Ventoso (Spa).
Bora-Hansgrohe: Cesare Benedetti (Ita), Sam Bennett (Irl), Maciej Bodnar (Pol), Marcus Burghardt (Ger), Gregor Mühlberger (Aut, neo-pro), Juraj Sagan (Svk), Peter Sagan (Svk), Aleksejs Saramotins (Lat).
Cannondale-Drapac: Alberto Bettiol (Ita), Nathan Brown (US), Simon Clarke (Aus), William Clarke (Aus), Kristijan Koren (Slo), Tom Scully (NZ), Toms Skujins (Lat, neo-pro), Tom van Asbroeck (Bel).
Dimension Data: Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor), Mark Cavendish (GB), Steve Cummings (GB), Bernhard Eisel (Aut), Jay Robert Thomson (SA), Mark Renshaw (Aus), Kristian Sbaragli (Ita), Scott Thwaites (GB).
FDJ: William Bonnet (Fra), Davide Cimolai (Ita), Mickaël Delage (Fra), Arnaud Démare (Fra), Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita), Ignatas Konovalovas (Ltu), Mathieu Ladagnous (Fra), Anthony Roux (Fra).
Katusha-Alpecin: Maxim Belkov (Rus), Sven Erik Bystrom (Nor), Marco Haller (Aut), Reto Hollenstein (Swi), Alexander Kristoff (Nor), Michael Morkov (Den), Simon Spilak (Slo), Rick Zabel (Ger).
Lotto-Soudal: Lars Bak (Den), Tiesj Benoot (Bel), Jens Debusschere (Bel), Tony Gallopin (Fra), Tomasz Marczynski (Pol), Jurgen Roelandts (Bel), Marcel Sieberg (Ger), Tim Wellens (Bel).
Lotto NL-Jumbo: Enrico Battaglin (Ita), Twan Castelijns (Hol), Jos van Emden (Hol), Tom Leezer (Hol), Juan José Lobato (Spa), Paul Martens (Ger), Primoz Roglic (Slo), Bram Tankink (Hol).
Movistar: Jorge Arcas (Spa, neo-pro), Carlos Barbero (Spa), Daniele Bennati (Ita), Carlos Betancur (Col), Nuno Bico (Por), Héctor Carretero (Spa), Alex Dowsett (GB), Jasha Sütterlin (Ger).
Orica-Scott: Michael Albasini (Swi), Caleb Ewan (Aus), Simon Gerrans (Aus), Mathew Hayman (Aus), Daryl Impey (SA), Jens Keukeleire (Bel), Luka Mezgec (Slo), Magnus Cort Nielsen (Den).
Quick-Step Floors: Julian Alaphilippe (Fra), Jack Bauer (NZ), Tom Boonen (Bel), Fernando Gaviria (Col), Philippe Gilbert (Bel), Fabio Sabatini (Ita), Matteo Trentin (Ita), Julien Vermote (Bel).
Team Sky: Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol), Gianni Moscon (Ita, neo-pro), Salvatore Puccio (Ita), Luke Rowe (GB), Ian Stannard (GB), Danny van Poppel (Hol), Elia Viviani (Ita), Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol).
Trek-Segafredo: Eugenio Alafaci (Ita), Marco Coledan (Ita), Koen de Kort (Hol), John Degenkolb (Ger), Fabio Felline (Ita), Gregory Rast (Swi), Jasper Stuyven (Bel), Kiel Reijnen (US).
Sunweb: Soren Kragh Andersen (Den), Nikias Arndt (Ger), Roy Curvers (Hol), Tom Dumoulin (Hol), Simon Geschke (Ger), Michael Matthews (Aus), Tom Stamsnijder (Hol), Albert Timmer (Hol).
UAE Team Emirates: Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor), Marco Marcato (Ita), Matej Mohoric (Slo), Sacha Modolo (Ita), Manuele Mori (Ita), Ben Swift (GB), Diego Ulissi (Ita), Federico Zurlo (Ita, neo-pro).