Britain's Mark Cavendish won the 100th edition of the 298km Milan-San Remo cycle race on Saturday after a thrilling race to the finish with Germany's Heinrich Haussler.
The 23-year-old Cavendish, who hails from the Isle of Man, was competing in the spring classic for the first time and became the first British rider to win it since Tom Simpson in 1964.
"It's the most beautiful day of my life. I didn't expect to win. I couldn't dream of anything better," said Cavendish, who won four stages in last year's Tour de France. "(Columbia team-mate George) Hincapie helped me enormously, but the whole team stayed with me on the climbs.
"When Haussler broke away at top speed I was scared, but it makes the victory even sweeter."
The race, the first major one-day classic of the season, saw a pack of 40 cyclists jostle for position through the winding streets of San Remo, with Haussler seemingly destined for victory after breaking away in the closing 400 metres, only for Cavendish to chase him down in dramatic fashion.
Haussler's Cervelo team-mate Thor Hushovd of Norway took third place, with Australia's Allan Davis (Quick Step) fourth and Alessandro Petacchi (LPR) fifth.
Tirreno-Adriatico winner Michele Scarponi of the Diquigiovanni team had stretched the field by leading the assault on the 5.6km climb up the Cipressa, the penultimate hill before the finish.
America's Lance Armstrong, making his comeback this year after a three-and-a-half year absence from the sport, fell off the pace as the peloton tackled the Cipressa and eventually finished well down the field.
The major sprinters assembled in a roughly 60-strong leading group approaching the Poggio, the race's final climb, with the Belgian Quick Step team leading the attack on the 3.5km ascent.
Scarponi's team-mate Davide Rebellin made the first attempt to break away but was quickly reined in, with Katusha's Filippo Pozzato - the runner-up in 2008 - moving past him at the crest of the 6.2km descent to the finish line.
Pozzato, though, couldn't establish any kind of lead, being sucked back into the leading group with two kilometres to go.
Haussler sparked the chase for victory as the finishing line loomed into view, but Cavendish produced a tremendous burst of speed to pip him right on the line in a photo-finish.
© AFP 2009
Results - 298km
|1 Mark Cavendish (GBr|Team Columbia - Highroad)||6:42:45|
|2 Heinrich Haussler (Ger|Cervélo TestTeam)|
|3 Thor Hushovd (Nor|Cervélo TestTeam)|
|4 Allan Davis (Aus|Quick Step)|
|5 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita|LPR Brakes - Farnese Vini)|
|6 Daniele Bennati (Ita|Liquigas)|
|7 Aitor Galdos (Spa|Euskaltel - Euskadi)||0:00:08|
|8 Enrico Rossi (Ita|Ceramica Flaminia - Bossini Docce)||0:00:39|
|9 Luca Paolini (Ita|Acqua & Sapone - Caffe Mokambo)||0:00:49|
|10 Peter Velits (Svk|Team Milram)|
2009 Milan-San Remo final kilometre: Cavendish!