By Nick Bull
German Gerald Ciolek outsprinted pre-race favourite Peter Sagan and 2008 winner Fabian Cancellara to win a snow-affected Milan-San Remo race that will live long in the memory.
Riding for the Pro Continental MTN Qhubeka team, Ciolek timed his acceleration to perfection to win from a six-man group who broke away in the closing kilometres. Sky's Ian Stannard finished sixth having played a large part in the group's formation.
However, the 2013 edition of la Primavera will be remembered for the inclement weather throughout. In particular, the race was neutralised in Ovada after 112km because of snow and freezing temperatures. Riders were transported by their team buses to Cogoleto, 54km nearer to the finish, which is where racing resumed. The climb of La Manie was also removed from the course.
A six-man breakaway group who formed in the early stages restarted the race 7-10 ahead of the peloton although some riders, including Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Tom Boonen, opted against getting back on their bikes for part two because of the conditions.
The break was caught just before the bottom of the Cipressa climb with 30km remaining, and it was on the descent of the iconic hill that the racing began in earnest.
World champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) attacked, which prompted a response from Stannard, Cancellara (Radioshack-Trek), Sagan (Cannondale), John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Eduard Vorganov (Katusha).
Stannard jumped clear out of this group, with only Chavanel and Vorganov following the British road race champion. The Katusha rider lost touch with the pair - who had a 30-second advantage over the peloton - halfway up the Poggio as they increased the pace with the finish approaching.
The key moment came towards the top of the climb, as recent Het Nieuwsblad winner Luca Paolini (Katusha) attacked from the peloton 6.9km from San Remo. Sagan, Cancellara and Ciolek followed, and the four chasers caught Stannard and Chavanel on the descent into the finish.
Having been joined by superior sprinters, the Briton refused to give up the fight, and attacked twice in the final 3km, the last of which was neutralised in sight of the flamme rouge.
Whether or not it was over confidence on his part, Sagan had also tried a small attack with 2.5km remaining. That effort may well have cost him as Ciolek, who had wisely saved energy by sitting at the back of the six-man group in the run-in, came past him in the sprint to take the biggest victory of his and the fledgling African team's careers to date.
The remnants of the peloton finished 14 seconds behind the German, with Mark Cavendish sprinting to ninth place.
Milan-San Remo 2013
1. Gerald Ciolek (Ger) MTN-Qhubeka in 5-37-20
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale
3. Fabian Cancellara (Sui) Radioshack-Trek
4. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
5. Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha
6. Ian Stannard (Gbr) Sky
7. Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing all at st.
8. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha at 14 sec
9. Mark Cavendish (Gbr) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
10. Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Sky all at st.
Snowy conditions temporarily interrupted the race
Eduard Vorganov, Sylvain Chavanel and Ian Stannard in escape group
Ian Stannard leads Sylvain Chavanel
Gerald Ciolek takes the win from pre-race favourites Peter Sagan (left) and Fabian Cancellara (right)
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