Eighth in last yearâs Milano - San Remo, 12 months on Alexander Kristoff (Team Katusha) has triumphed in cyclingâs first âMonumentâ of 2014, outsprinting a group of some 20 riders, in what is easily his biggest win to date. In the UCI WorldTour Kristoff is now fourth overall.
Kristoffâs first victory in Italyâs biggest one-day Classic is also Norwayâs first. It came after a fast and furious finale to the 294 kilometre event where when Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Pro Team) launched a solo move on the Cipressa climb, it briefly looked as if the sprinters and Classics specialists were to be foiled.
Instead, a group of two dozen riders caught the 2013 Giro dâItalia winner on the lower slopes of the final ascent, the Poggio and then hurtled back down to San Remo and a decisive shootout between the fast names in the mini-peloton.
A bronze medallist in the 2012 Olympics, former national champion and already a winner of a stage of the Tour of Oman in 2014, Kristoff timed his final charge for the line in the rainsoaked streets of San Remo to perfection. Shooting past Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), second for a third time, and Team Skyâs Ben Swift - who finally placed third - Kristoff said his victory represented a new high point in his career.
â[Team-mate] Luca Paolini helped me enormously in the finale, but I really didnât think more than a top ten finish was possible,â Kristoff said afterwards. âEven if a sprint after 300 kilometres is very different to a normal sprint, I couldnât believe Iâd won until I crossed the line. Itâs absolutely fantastic.â
Whilst the top three riders in the UCI WorldTour - Carlos Alberto Betancur (AG2R La Mondiale) with 114, Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) with 114 and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) with 112 - remain with unchanged placings and unchanged points totals, Kristoff has gained no less than 59 spots and is now fourth with 101 points.
He is not the only Classics rider or sprinter to make significant progress towards the highest placings thanks to Milano - San Remo: Cancellara now lies in seventh with 84 points, Swift takes his first UCI WorldTour points to move into twelfth, and Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma - Quick Step), who was fifth in the race, moves up from 33rd to 17th.
In the nations classification, leader Australiaâs total remains unchanged with 336 points, but Spain have closed the gap yet further and have moved up from third to second overall after adding another 18 points to their total.
Unsurprising, Norway are the biggest movers in the UCI WorldTour ranking, up from 22nd to eighth, whilst Great Britain, gaining five places to go up to the sixth place overall, have also made considerable progress.
A familiar name is back in the top spot of the teams classification. The 2013 outright winners, Movistar Teamâs new total of 218 points allows them to inch ahead of former leader Ag2R La Mondiale, with 216, whilst Lampre-Merida, for all they remain in third, have regained ground on the two âbreakawaysâ with 191 points. Trek Factory Racing and Team Sky, meanwhile, both profit from Milano-San Remo to leapfrog past the opposition, Trek Factory Racing into fifth with 168 points and Team Sky, also with 168, in sixth.
The impact of the Classics on the UCI WorldTour has already been considerable, then, even the bulk of one-day racing this spring is yet to come. And in five days time, in the E3 Harelbeke in Belgium, the Classics racers will have their next big opportunity to gain both points and places in the UCI WorldTour.