Julian Alaphilippe remains unbeatable as he took a sprint victory from an elite group in Milan-San Remo.
The Frenchman tore the race open with an attack on the Poggio, being followed by a selection of the strongest riders in the world.
As an 11-man group, including Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and world champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), came into the final straight, Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) opened his sprint and proved himself the strongest man, taking the first Monument of his career.
How it happened
The 2019 edition of ‘La Primavera’ followed an identical route to the previous two editions, over 291km from Milan to the Via Roma in San-Remo, 30km from the French border near Nice.
First heading south from Milan, the race hit the beautiful Liguria coastal region and turned west to follow the Mediterranean to San Remo.
Riders were faced with the familiar collection of climbs, starting with the Passo del Turchino 140km into the race, before the iconic run to the line.
In the closing 60km, the peloton raced over the Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta before the iconic duo of the Cipressa and Poggio.
The 7km-long Cipressa averages 4.1 per cent with a maximum of nine per cent, but has traditionally been deemed too far from the finish to act as a springboard to victory.
A 3km decent from the peak was followed by a 9km flat run to the final test of the day, the Poggio.
The 4km ascent, averaging just 3.7 per cent but hitting a maximum gradient of eight per cent has been the decisive moment in the previous two editions.
A technical descent of 3km sets up the final 3km flat run to the finish on the famous Via Roma.
In the opening kilometres a breakaway of 10 went clear and settled in for a long day out front.
Fausto Masnada (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Mirco Maestri, Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani-CSF), Guy Sagiv (Israel Cycling Academy), Luca Raggio, Sebastian Schönberger (Neri Sottoli-Selle Italia-KTM), Joonas Henttala, Andrea Peron, Charles Planet and Umberto Poli (Novo Nordisk) made up the move.
The break pulled out a 10-minute advantage at its maximum, with the peloton reeling them back to 5-40 with 100km left to race.
A slight tailwind of 7km/h assisted the riders along the coast, as the peloton wound the breakaway down to 90 seconds 40km from the line.
At the front of the peloton, much of the chasing was shared by Team Sky, Mitchelton-Scott, Trek-Segafedo and Lotto-Soudal.
The closing bunch sparked a reaction from the breakaway, as Schönberger attacked on the Capo Berta to delay the inevitable for a little longer.
Maestri and Raggio caught up with Schönberger and were then joined by Masnada who attacked on the technical descent from the capo.
The remaining breakaway riders, Schönberger, Maestri, Raggio, Planet and Sagiv, held onto their advantage ahead of the bunch as Masnada committed to his solo dig, his gap falling to 40 seconds 30km out.
The teams driving the peloton set a rapid pace on the approach to the Cipressa, with Sky applying pressure and Groupama-FDJ joining the action for former winner Arnaud Démare.
The remains of the breakaway were caught at the foot of the penultimate climb, with Masnada determined to stay away but finally being caught half way up the Cipressa.
With 23km on the clock, we saw the first cracks in the sprinters as Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), on his debut at Milan-San Remo, dangled precariously at the back of the bunch but valiantly fought and was able to keep in contact over the top.
UAE Team Emirates and Deceuninck – Quick-Step made their presence felt as the race hit the top of the Cipressa,
Direct Energie sprinter Niccolò Bonifazio unleashed a huge attack on the descent, riding right on the edge and hitting the bottom 11 seconds ahead of the bunch with 17.9km to race.
The peloton split under the pace of the chase as around 30 riders formed the front group.
It came back together quickly, luckily for Caleb Ewan whose Lotto-Soudal team were caught out.
The 9km flat stretch to the foot of the Poggio looked like it would break the will of Bonifazio, but the Italian managed to extend the gap out to 22 seconds as teams were reluctant to chase 12km from home.
CCC Team, riding for Greg Van Avermaet, took control and brought the gap down to 10 seconds and Bonifazio was caught before the foot of the final climb.
Deceuninck – Quick-Step once again joined the front of the race, with Mitchelton-Scott and Lotto-Soudal riding alongside as the race hit the Poggio.
Michał Kwiatkowski, winner in 2017, moved to the front with team-mate Luke Rowe leading the race.
Zdenek Stybar took control with Julian Alaphilippe glued to his wheel.
World champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team-Emirates) were all present at the head of the race on the lower slopes.
Italian champion Viviani slipped a long way back in the peloton but looked to be holding his position 7km from the line.
Groenewegen clung on to the back of the bunch but looked in danger of being dropped.
Stybar buried himself 2km from the summit of the climb, but couldn’t discourage Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) from attacking and pulling out a small gap.
Alaphillipe opened up and went straight past Bettiol, with Kwiatkowski and Sagan chasing.
The attacks opened up a gap with seven riders leading as Valverde, Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott), and Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) also made the selection at the top of the Poggio.
Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) bridged across to the front group, as Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) formed part of a chasing group that had also gone clear of the peloton.
John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) was hit by a mechanical on the descent, making his frustration evident.
Trentin attacked 2km out as the race hit the flat run to the line, with Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) closing down the gap.
Alaphilippe opened his sprint early and was able to pass Sagan who found himself boxed in.
Naesen was tied to Alaphilippe’s wheel but didn’t have the strength to come past, as Kwiatkowski gained quickly but had to settle for third.
The Frenchman crossed the line with his arms raised to win the first Monument of his career.
Milan-San Remo 2019 (291km)
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, in 6-40-14
2. Oliver Naesen (Bel) Ag2r La Mondiale
3. Michał Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky
4. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
5. Matej Mohorič (Slo) Bahrain-Merida
6. Wout Van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma
7. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar
8. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
9. Simon Clarke (Aus) EF Education First
10. Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott, all at same time