Milan-San Remo: John Degenkolb wins; Geraint Thomas close
Geraint Thomas's brave effort to win the prestigious Milan-San Remo one-day race came to nothing as Germany's John Degenkolb won a bunch sprint finish.
Britain's Thomas, riding for Team Sky, opened a 20-second lead on the Poggio - the final climb of the day - but he was caught just after reaching the summit.
Thomas stayed with the leaders on the 5.5km race to the end but the sprinters took control in the final kilometre.
Defending champion Alexander Kristoff led the sprint but Degenkolb edged it.
"Last year it was the biggest disappointment of my career," said Degenkolb, who punctured late on in 2014's race.
"This year I add my name to the list of prestigious winners. It's the biggest win of my career."
|Where next? E3 Harelbeke in Belgium - 27 March|
|"I've always enjoyed this race and finished third and fourth in the last two years. Once we reach the climbs in the second-half of the race they come thick and fast and blow the race apart.|
|"There are about seven in a 50km section and the riding is hard and fast into the bottom of the climbs, because if you aren't up near the front you will always be playing catch-up."|
|Read Geraint Thomas's guide to the one-day classics|
If the sprint finish on the Via Roma in San Remo in the first of the season's Spring Classics was predictable, the solo efforts of Thomas were perhaps not.
He was part of a Team Sky trio, led by fellow Welshman Luke Rowe, who broke clear of the peloton with around 36km of the 293km race remaining.
Rowe and Thomas led Yorkshireman Ben Swift, who finished third in last year's race, down a wet and treacherous descent and as other riders exercised caution, the Team Sky riders went clear.
However, they were caught, along with Italy's Matteo Bono, the sole rider left from an earlier 11-man breakaway, on the climb of the Cipressa.
Several attacks followed as the puncheurs attempted to distance the out-and-out sprinters but it was not until after the descent of the Cipressa that gaps began to open as Daniel Oss rode clear with around 16km remaining.
He was tracked by Thomas, who had been pacing Swift, and the two quickly built a lead of 30 seconds.
However, as the peloton closed in on the Poggio, Thomas kicked again, left Oss, and reached the summit first but he was caught quickly as he started the technical descent.
Without the sprinting speed of a Kristoff or Degenkolb, he tried to keep the pace high on the front of the leading bunch, allowing his team-mate Swift to save energy for the final run-in.
Thomas was eventually passed as the riders went under the kilometre to go banner and Degenkolb won the frantic race for the line ahead of Norwegian Kristoff, with Australia's Michael Matthew third.
Pre-race favourite Peter Sagan of Slovakia was fourth, while world champion Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland crashed on the descent of the Poggio.
Swift was the first Briton over the line in 13th, with Thomas following the leading bunch. Mark Cavendish, who admitted to "not being 100%" on Saturday, was dropped on the Poggio and did not contest the finish.
1. John Degenkolb (Ger/Giant) 6hrs 46mins 16secs
2. Alexander Kristoff (Nor/Katusha) same time
3. Michael Matthews (Aus/Orica)
4. Peter Sagan (Svk/Tinkoff-Saxo)
5. Niccolo Bonifazio (Ita/Lampre)
6. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra/Cofidis)
7. Fabian Cancellara (Swi/Trek)
8. Davide Cimolai (Ita/Lampre)
9. Tony Gallopin (Fra/Lotto)
10. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor/Team MTN)
13. Ben Swift (GB/Team Sky) same time
31. Geraint Thomas (GB/Team Sky) +12secs
37. Simon Yates (GB/Orica) +23secs
46. Mark Cavendish (GB/Ettix - Quick-Step) same time
130. Luke Rowe (GB/Team Sky) +11mins 37 secs
157. Steven Cummings (GB/Team MTN +14mins 58secs
158. Alex Dowsett (GB/Movistar) same time