Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara upstaged the sprinters to claim an impressive solo victory in the Milan-San Remo on Saturday, the first one-day classic of the cycling season.
Cancellara, who rides for CSC, pulled confidently away from a small group of race leaders inside the final three kilometres of the 298 km epic to effectively end all expectations of a bunch sprint.
The former Paris-Roubaix winner's move proved decisive, and allowed him to add another prestigious win to his growing tally in what was the race's 99th edition.
Cancellara had time to savour his triumph, coming over the finish line with his arms in the air and two seconds to spare as a group of around 10 riders battled for the podium places.
Italian Filippo Pozzato of Liquigas grabbed second place ahead of Belgium's Philippe Gilbert, of Francaise des Jeux, with Italian Davide Rebellin claiming fourth.
Last year's winner, Oscar Freire of Spain, finished eighth.
Gilbert, a recent winner of the hilly Flemish semi-classic Het Volk, had tried to attack Cancellara's group on the descent of the final climb, the Poggio, only to have a change of mind.
It was soon afterwards, on the flatter, winding roads leading to the finish line, that Cancellara put the time trialling skills that have won him theworld title for the past two years to good use.
In dry and sunny conditions, the early stages were brought to life by a four-man breakaway composed of Italians Filippo Savini and Nicola d'Andrea, American William Frischkorn and Latvian Raivis Belohvosciks.
They led for an impressive 250km after pulling away from the peloton after just 23 of the race's 298 kilometres but were reduced to three when D'Andrea began dropping back on the descent of the newly-included climb at Le Manie.
World and Olympic road race champion Paolo Bettini then attacked at the foot of the Cipressa, the penultimate climb, to be joined by Sweden's Thomas Lovkvist, of High Road and eventually Rebellin, Swede Niklas Axelsson, and Paolo Savoldelli.
However with the Poggio still to climb, their slender lead was fragile.
Under CSC's charge, helped by Pozzato's Liquigas team, Bettini and company were overtaken with ease on the Poggio. Successive attacks, including those of Rebellin and Gilbert, tore the chasing peloton to shreds minutes before the finale.
When Euskaltel's Inigo Landaluze tried his luck by pulling in front with a little more than two kilometres to go, Cancellara made his move and countered. The 27-year-old left everyone in his wake with a time trialling performance that handed Switzerland their first San Remo win since Erich Maechler triumphed 21 years ago.
For a full race report with photos, visit our sister site Cyclingnews.com.
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008