Reigning world champion Peter Sagan was denied victory at the 108th edition of Milan-Sanremo by Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski on Saturday.

MILAN (AFP) – Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) stunned world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) in a thrilling three-up sprint to win the 108th edition of the Italian cycling classic Milan-Sanremo on Saturday.

Kwiatkowski, a former world champion, claimed his first triumph in ‘La Classicissima’ after launching his sprint late to stun Sagan at the finish line in San Remo. Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) finished close behind in third after 291km of racing from Milan.

After surviving a solo assault over the Poggio by Sagan inside the final 6km, the recent Strade Bianche winner countered off the 27-year-old Slovakian’s rear wheel with 10 meters to go. Kwiatkowski narrowly squeezed between Sagan and Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) in a photo finish for the first Monument win of his pro career.

Milan-Sanremo, which also marks the first Monument of the season, is the longest one-day race on the WorldTour calendar and is widely regarded as the ‘Sprinter’s Classic’ within the sport.

“I’m very happy, although I actually didn’t expect to win,” said Kwiatkowski, who had been scheduled to work for teammate Elia Viviani and help set the Italian up for a winning sprint.

“I won Strade Bianche recently, and now to come and win ‘La Primavera’ is just … incredible.”

In a further statement to race organizer RCS Sport, Kwiatkowski continued to articulate his feelings about his unexpected win: “I can’t believe I’ve beaten Sagan!”

Results, top 10

The race animated early with a 10-rider break forming shortly after leaving Milan: Nico Denz (AG2R La Mondiale), Mattia Frapporti (Androni-Sidermec), Mirco Maestri (Bardiani-CSF), Ivan Rovny (Gazprom-Rusvelo), Alan Marangoni (Nippo-Fantini), Umberto Poli (Novo Nordisk), Federico Zurlo (UAE Team Emirates), Julen Amezqueta (Wilier-Selle Italia) and a pair of Cannondale-Drapac riders – Will Clarke and Tom Skujins – making their Milan-Sanremo debuts.

Averaging 41.5km/h in the first hour, the 10 escapees extended the gap to nearly five minutes over the field after just 50km of racing.

The race was essentially pan-flat with Passo del Turchino serving as a mid-race ascent before the jagged final stretch to the finish, which feature the Cipressa and Poggio climbs ahead of the fast finale on the Via Roma at Sanremo.

While the gap narrowed dramatically on the Turchino to just 2:15 in the fourth hour of racing, the 10 leaders once again extended the break out to five minutes along the Ligurian coast.

With FDJ, Bora-Hansgrohe, Quick-Step Floors and Dimension Data controlling the front of the peloton, the field began to claw back time heading onto Capo Mele – the first of three small successive summits inside the final 51km before reaching the infamous final two climbs.

After dropping Poli, Frapporti and Zurlo from the original break on Capo Berta, the remaining seven leaders were quickly reeled in heading toward the Cipressa.

As expected, Sagan attacked prior to the Poggio in a successful attempt to shed the peloton, however Kwiatkowski and Alaphilippe were quickly in tow as the trio race uncontested toward the finish.

Fresh from winning two stages in commanding fashion at Tirreno-Adriatico, Sagan started Milan-Sanremo as the man to beat from a quality-packed sprint field that included 2014 champion Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin), 2015 winner John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and Frenchman Arnaud Demare (FDJ), who stunned the field to triumph last year.

Kristoff went on to finish fourth at five seconds in arrears and at the head of a chasing bunch featuring Colombian fast man Fernando Gaviria, Demare, Degenkolb, Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni and Viviani.

But despite leaving all his pre-race rivals behind after a decisive attack on the Poggio climb 6km from the finish, Sagan suffered the misfortune of taking Kwiatkowski with him when the Pole counter-attacked with Alaphilippe.

A “long” sprint on the home straight then left the Slovakian short of juice in the final meters when Kwiatkowski appeared from behind his wheel to snatch victory at the line.

“He actually made the race,” Kwiatkowski said when asked about Sagan’s performance. “But when he escaped, I knew we absolutely had to catch him.”

Having built a decisive lead on the chasing peloton during the technical descent towards the final, flat two kilometers, Sagan led into the final kilometer.

But the Bora team rider took the risk of launching his sprint nearly 350m from the finish, giving Kwiatkowski the chance to follow his wheel and overtake him in the final meters.

The pair almost crashed as an off-balance Sagan wavered, but there was a quick handshake. Sagan and Kwiatkowski have been beating each other on and off for the best part of 10 years.

It was Sagan’s second runner-up place after his second behind Germany’s Gerald Ciolek in 2013, but in trademark fashion he brushed off the defeat. I’ve got used to second here, though I was expecting something different,” said Sagan, who is famous for pulling ‘wheelies’ while riding up the climbs of the Tour de France.

“The final went as it did. Both of them took relays with me, but I thought I had the legs to go for a long sprint.

“The results don’t matter. It’s important to give the fans a bit of a show.”

On his maiden appearance at the first ‘Monument’ of the cycling classics season, Alaphilippe came off worse for wear after over seven hours of racing.

And he was just as surprised as Kwiatkowski at finishing on the podium.

“I’m very happy, to come here and make the podium is incredible,” he said.

Listen to our discussion of Milano-Sanremo on the VeloNews podcast: