Cadel Evans ended Australia's long wait for cycling's coveted rainbow jersey when he won the men's road race here at the world cycling championships on Sunday.
Evans escaped a small leading group at the foot of the Novazzano climb on the demanding 262.2km course and forged ahead on his own to end the hopes of a handful of arguably bigger favourites.
He grabbed Australia's first gold in the event in 6hr 56min with Alexandr Kolobnev of Russia finishing second and Joaquin Rodriguez of Spain third at 27secs in arrears.
A former mountain biker who has come close on several occasions to winning the world title in that discipline, Evans - who lives nearby during the season - was only too happy to make amends.
"The finish line is three kilometres away from my home away from home, so to win a world title here, after having seven world championship medals at home, none of which are gold, is quite exceptional given the bad luck I've encountered this season," he said.
"I'm very proud to win the first elite world championships for Australia."
Evans on the attack
In a thrilling finale to the most anticipated one-day race of the year former podium finishers, including Alejandro Valverde of Spain and Damiano Cunego of Italy, failed to shine.
The pair finished nearly a minute behind, with Spain's Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez coming in fourth and Swiss Fabian Cancellara on his wheel to claim fifth.
Evans did well to join on to the back of a nine-man group which formed as Cancellara drove the pace hard late on the way up the Acquafresca climb, the first of two and the most difficult on the 13.8km circuit which was raced 19 times. And the Australian, who made up for a disastrous Tour de France campaign by finishing third on the Tour of Spain last week, took everyone by surprise with his well-timed burst.
Known widely in the sport as a 'clean' rider, Evans experienced his worst ever Tour de France in July, a race in which he finished runner-up in 2007 and 2008. But he quickly played down the issue regarding his ethical approach to the sport.
"I was just happy I came out on top today. I've been thinking about this race for two years, and prepared for it by racing the Vuelta (Tour of Spain)."
On the last lap Kolobnev hit the Acquafresca climb on his own after chasing down Alexandre Vinokourov but Cancellara's stunning pace on the climb's steep 12 percent gradients that did most damage, forcing his rivals to follow.
However, it was a move by Evans with around 10km from the finish that shook things up for good. He surged ahead, to be followed by Kolobnev and Rodriguez, and when the Australian jumped away at the foot of the Novazzano they failed to respond.
Kolobnev said: "I had the legs and the power to follow Evans but when he attacked on that climb he left us trailing. He was just too powerful."
The fact that Valverde and Cunego were riding further back marking each other with Cancellara, ultimately gave Evans an extra boost.
After a mute celebration as he crossed the finish line, the Australian then let the emotions take over as he kissed his wedding ring, which he keeps around his neck, several times.
Although next year's world championships will be held in Geelong, Australia, where he lives for three months of the year, Evans admitted this local course provided his best chance to become world champion.
"This course suits me better than the one in Geelong and I think I proved that today," said Evans. "It's also an answer to those criticisms that I've had, saying I never attack."
Denmark's Matti Breschel, who finished third last year, did well to finish seventh and despite admitting he was "happy" with the end result he said Evans showed brains, and brawn on his way to gold.
"I think Fabian (Cancellara) really deserved to win here on home ground where he was clearly the strongest," Breschel said of his Swiss teammate at Saxo Bank. "It was not the strongest, but the smartest rider who won today."
© 2009 AFP
For a complete report with results and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.