Britain's Ben Swift (Sky) places third behind Alexander Kristoff and Fabian Cancellara in Milan-San Remo 2014
The Norwegian follows in the footsteps of Gerald Ciolek, Simon Gerrans and Matt Goss to win despite being considered an outside bet, even if the race did pan out as widely predicted.
This is comfortably the biggest win in Kristoff’s career, although his potential has been apparent for a while now, following a bronze medal at the London Olympics’ road race and several stage wins and top 10 classics finishes since then.
A large group contested the sprint, after an unusually subdued accent of the Poggio saw only a few attacks, none of which gained a significant advantage. As the riders approached the line Britain’s Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) looked hot favourite, riding towards the front with his main rival Andre Grepiel (Lotto-Belisol) towards the back after he had to recover from being dropped on the Poggio.
But Cavendish was clearly suffering from a long, cold day in the saddle, and failed to maintain momentum after starting his sprint early, eventually fading into fifth. In hindsight his disappointing sprint should perhaps not be too much of a surprise; early footage showed the Omega-Pharma rider looking very cold and uncomfortable, and he did well to remain in the lead group.
Nevertheless, there was success for British riders in the surprising form of Ben Swift, who sprinted for third place after team Sky’s more fancied Edvald Boasson Hagen was dropped earlier in the Poggio. Evidently the 26-year-old is capable of lasting the distance in the longer classics, and could feature in other big races this spring.
For the fourth year in succession Fabian Cancellara finished on the podium, and his frustration at this run of near misses was clear as he crossed the finish line angrily banging his handlebars. His second place did, however, come as a surprise after he failed to make an attack earlier on, and his high finish from such a position was better than anyone would have predicted.
Cancellara was one of many not to muster an attack, and the only two riders to have a dig on the Poggio were his teammate Gregory Rast and Bardiani’s Enrico Battaglin. On the Cipressa, however, home favourite Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) attacked alone and managed first to catch the survivors of the day’s initial break – Martin Tjallingii (Belkin) and Marc de Maar (UnitedHealthcare), and gain a lead of around 50 seconds. But that soon diminished as he was left isolated on the flat section between the two final climbs, and a Cannondale-led bunch caught him on the Poggio.
Cannondale – particularly Alessandro De Marchi – did a lot of work of to try and wear down their rivals, however pre-race favourite Peter Sagan could only manage 10th place at the finish, one place behind last year’s winner Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka). But it’s Katusha’s teamwork that deserves praise ultimately, after they also did much work before the major climbs, and gave their sprinter an excellent lead-out through Luca Paolini.
Milan-San Remo 2014, 294km
1. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha in 6-55-56
2. Fabian Cancellara (Sui) Trek Factory Racing
3. Ben Swift (GBr) Sky
4. Juan Lobato (Spa) Movistar
5. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
6. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bardiani
7. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
8. Sacha Modolo (Ita) Lampre-Merida
9. Gerald Ciolek (Ger) MTN-Qhubeka
10. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale all same time