Alexander Kristoff of Katusha has won the 105th edition of Milan-San Remo, winning a sprint from a group of 30 riders at the end of the 294km race, with Fabian Cancellara of Trek Factory Racing runner-up for the second time in three years and Ben Swift of Team Sky third. Mark Cavendish of Omega Pharma-Quick Step was in the mix, but on a cold, wet day, could not get his usual speed in the final sprint and finished fifth.
Last year, snowfall on the Passo del Turchino saw part of the route suspended while the race was in progress, with the riders taken by bus from before that point to beyond the climb of Le Manie, which made its debut in 2008 but has now been dropped from the race.
Today, the elements again made conditions difficult for the peloton, with heavy rain falling for most of the race and cool temperatures, with soaked clothing causing many riders to be visibly shivering on TV pictures, including Mark Cavendish.
No more than 60 riders were left in contention as the race hit the start of the Cipressa, the first of the two late climbs that so often prove decisive and which came with 27.5km left. The three remaining members of the day's break started the ascent with an advantage of 2 minutes, but the race was exploding into life behind them.
Immediately the road headed uphill, Cannondale hit the front, Alessandro De Marchi setting a pace that saw most of the group dropped, pre-race favourite Peter Sagan tucked in behind him.
Halfway up the climb, the man who finished third behind Orica-GreenEdge's Simon Gerrans two years ago, Vincenzo Nibali of Astana, attacked, the Sicilian aware that such a move was his only chance of victory.
The 2013 Giro d'Italia winner crested the climb with 22km remaining around a dozen seconds down on the final pair of escapees, Belkin’s Maarten Tjallingii and UnitedHealthCare’s Marc de Maar.
Widely regarded as the best descender in the peloton and particularly in the wet, Nibali flew past the pair on the descent and was out in front on his own with just the climb of the Poggio to come.
Cresting the Cipressa, Cavendish, remained in what was now a much diminished chasing group of no more than 30 men, although the 2009 winner was isolated from team mates including his leadout men Mark Renshaw and Alessandro Petacchi.
Also still in contention were other fancied riders such as Lotto-Belisol's André Greipel, John Degenkolb of Argos-Shimano and defending champion, Gerald Ciolek of MTN Qhubeka.
Nibali, however was alone in front and with 15 kilometres left had an advantage of 50 seconds. Ahead of the Poggio, the chasing group managed to most of that back, and the Astana rider's lead had been slashed to a quarter of a minute as he hit the final climb.
Soon, Gregory Rast of Trek Factory Racing had overhauled him as he attacked off the chasing group, looking to set up Fabian Cancellara, and he was quickly joined by Enrico Battaglin of Bardiani-CSF.
Behind them, the big names were starting to attack, the first to do so being BMC Racing's Philippe Gilbert, and the pair were swallowed up with a kilometre of the climb remaining, and most of the group of 30 riders made it over the top together with just 6.1km left, with Greipel the one big name struggling to keep up.
Belkin's Bauke Mollema led the group through the sequence of tight hairpin bends that led back down to the coast, followed by BMC Racing's Greg Van Avermaet, who tried to attack once the foot of the descent had been reached.
The way down from the Poggio had strung the remaining riders out, but coming into the final two kilometres the group, including Greipel, had reformed.
Coming under the flamme rouge, Cavendish was about 15 riders back, and moved out to prepare his sprint but just didn't seem to have the legs as Kristoff came out to clinch victory, with his remaining Katusha team mate Luca Paolini having played a big role in setting up his victory as he led the front group through the final 1.5kilometres.
Earlier, when the break had hit Capo Mele the first of the three headlands with short but sharp climbs that lie between 52km and around 40km to go, four riders remained from a seven man breakaway group that had got away shortly after the start in Milan.
Besides Tjallingii and de Maar, the quartet comprised Matteo Bono of Lampre Merida and NetApp-Endura’s Jan Barta. Their earlier companions had been Antonio Parrinello of Androni Giocattoli, Bardiani-CSF’s Nicola Boem and Garmin-Sharp’s Nathan Haas.
With Cannondale, working for Sagan, ensuring they had a man in front of the main group to force the pace, the quartet in front were doomed to be brought back.
The speed of the chase also saw a number of riders out of the back of the peloton including one of Italy’s big hopes, Diego Ulissi of Lampre-Merida.
Another rider tipped as an outsider for today’s race didn’t even make it as far as kilometre zero on Milan’s Via della Chiesa Rossa; Jose Joaquin Rojas of Movistar crashed as the peloton rode through the city while the race was neutralised ahead of the official start.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.