Vincenzo Nibali, one of only six men to have won all three of cycling’s Grand Tours, has won il Lombardia, the first victory in a one-day Monument of his career.
The Astana rider gave a masterclass in descending coming off the penultimate climb of the race from Bergamo to Como.
He stayed clear of a select bunch over the final ascent and down to the finish despite the efforts of Katusha’s Dani Moreno, who would finish 21 seconds back, to close him down.
As Nibali crossed the line in the jersey of Italian national champion, a wayward tricolore flag attached itself to his chest as if in celebration of the home victory.
Thibaut Pinot of FDJ.fr claimed third spot on the podium at the end of the 245 kilometre race – the 109th time it has been run – a further 11 seconds back.
“I knew the roads very well because I often train around Sormano, San Fermo and the villages near Lugano,” said Nibali afterwards.
“That made it even nicer to win today. On Friday I reconned the race route to study the new race finish, with the innovation of the Civiglio climb followed by San Fermo.
“I liked the idea of a long range attack, because it was a very hard finish which did not suit the really light climbers.
“I carefully measured the distance from the Civiglio to the finish line, with the descent and then the valley road to the foot of San Fermo. I checked how far apart the climbs were, because I knew that the Civiglio could be the crux of the race.”
He went on: “I can't explain how I descend the way I do. You either have it or you don't, I think, although, as a descender, [Peter] Sagan is even crazier than I am: at least I try to keep a margin for error.
“Everyone knew that I wanted a result today, which meant that I was very closely marked on the way up the Civiglio. We all had the same number of kilometres in our legs, and it wasn't easy to invent a race-winning move, but I managed to come up with something at the top of the descent.
“I was kept constantly aware of what was happening behind me. I built a good lead and I knew the reaction from the chasing group would be strong, but I rode at a very even pace and, once I reached at the top of San Fermo, the ride into Como seemed to go by in a moment.
In 2012 Nibali launched a late attack to try and win Liège–Bastogne–Liège but was reeled in with less than a kilometre to go.
And despite his Grand Tour pedigree, he has regularly featured at the sharp end of Milan-San Remo, finishing third there in 2012.
“I have always wanted to win a big one-day classic, and I've come close in the past,” he reflected after today’s victory.
“I've always been competitive in one-day races although, since I started concentrating on three-week tours, I've lost some of my acceleration.
“But when there are very hard climbs, like today, it's easier for a climber like me, and finally to take the win here means a lot to me.
“I've often had good form here, only for a fall or a bit of bad luck to intervene.
“But now I have won, and I've always said that a win in il Lombardia is worth a Liège-Bastogne-Liège,” he added.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.