Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara flank winner Gerald Ciolek on the podium, Milan-San Remo 2013

Gerald Ciolek, racing for an unknown second division team, MTN-Qhubeka, played his cards perfectly to win Milan-San Remo today. The German waited to pounce while the attention was on Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) and Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).

"It was maybe even harder for Sagan, he was the big, big favourite and had the responsibility on his shoulders," Ciolek said in a press conference. "I also took some advantage of his situation, but in the end, it was just having the fastest legs and I was able to beat him."

Ciolek wore a black MTN cap and kept his arms crossed to keep warm. Milan-San Remo ran under rain, snow, wind and temperatures ranging from 0 to 10°C.

After the race re-started following a bus ride around the Turchino pass, he marked his rivals.

Over the I Tre Capi, the Cipressa and the Poggio, One by one, the sprinters dropped out of the picture: Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and eventually Cavendish.

Cavendish was left behind when the last split occurred on the Poggio. Ciolek remained at the business end of the race. Six riders remained heading to the line along the seafront. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) started, Sagan reacted and Ciolek shot ahead.

Moving to Africa

Over the winter, Ciolek left the very team that Cavendish joined, Belgian mega-team Omega Pharma-QuickStep. He joined an unknown African second division team, MTN-Qhubeka. Many considered MTN signed him to receive invitations to the European races and that he would not perform.

Ciolek won an early season race in Belgium, a stage in the Three Days of West Flanders, and raced well in Tirreno-Adriatico. Today, he took advantage of his situation.

"The responsibly was on Sagan's shoulders," Ciolek added, still shivering. "Fabian Cancellara did some work. I just had to follow the attacks on the Poggio, and I was able."

"I under-evaluated him a little bit," Sagan said at the finish.

"I watched Cancellara, who was trying to break free, and maybe I did too much work than he [Ciolek] did. He stayed on my wheel. Then he took my wheel to do the sprint and was able to beat me, so... I guess races are that way some times."

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Gerald Ciolek sprints to surprise Milan-San Remo win

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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.