Julian Alaphilippe’s phenomenal year continued when he won his seventh race of the season at Milan-Sanremo.
Though many people’s favourite going into the race – which at 291 kilometres is the longest in the professional calendar – there were no guarantees the Deceuninck-Quick Step rider would end his wait for a major classic in the springtime sun in northern Italy.
However, after almost seven hours in the saddle that is exactly what Alaphilippe did.
"It’s difficult to realise what I did and what my team did," Alaphilippe said afterwards. "It’s unbelievable".
After a breakaway group had spent most of the day out in front on the largely flat route, the leading protagonists’ teams took control as the race neared the Cipressa – the first of the two key climbs whose summit comes just 21km from the finish – before the attacks started to flow.
Niccolo Bonifazio (Direct Energie) went first, almost catching a motorbike on the fast technical descent off the Cipressa. The Italian, though, was caught before hitting the bottom of the race’s final climb.
Team Sky, led by Welshman Luke Rowe, hit the bottom of the Poggio hard, setting a blistering pace up the 3.7 km climb which was simply too much for some with many appearing to be pedalling in treacle.
Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) hit out around 2 km from the summit, but Alaphilippe was smart to the move and closed the Italian down taking with him Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).
World champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), European champion Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott), Oliver Naesen (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) followed.
On the fast descent into Sanremo, defending champion Vincenzo Nibali and Bahrain-Merida team-mate Matej Mohoric gave chase. Trentin launched another attack around 2km from the line, but was closed down by Van Aert who made an impressive debut.
Mohoric was next to go, but the Slovenian champion’s move soon fizzled out, leaving Sagan sat in the worst possible position with 500m remaining: at the front of the race.
The three-time world champion, who had been struggling with illness in the race build-up, paid the ultimate price as he peered over his right shoulder looking for Alaphilippe.
Mohoric darted down the left, taking with him the in-form Deceuninck-Quick Step rider who made easy work of the sprint to win the biggest one-day of his career with Naesen and Kwiatkowski taking second and third.
Alaphilippe wins Milan-Sanremo!
Julian Alaphilippe has won the first monument of his career after opening up his sprint in the final 200 metres before powering to victory on Via Roma.
With Peter Sagan sitting on the front eyeballing his rivals, Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida) attacked down the left-hand side of the road taking with him the Deceuninck-Quick Step rider. Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) followed the wheel of Alaphilippe before the Frenchman overhauled Mohoric and opened up his sprint for the line.
Alaphilippe who is in unstoppable form right now won his seventh race of the year, and his team's first Milan-Sanremo since 2006. Magnificent result following a quite scrappy final couple of kilometres. Naesen took second place while the 2017 winner Kwiatkowski finished in third spot.
1km to go
Matteo Trentinis caught, Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida) attacks next.
2km to go
Matteo Trentin attacks, but can the European champion hold on? Vincenzo Nibali is here!
3.5km to go
Eight riders are leading the way down the Poggio. John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) has shipped his chain. Agony for the German!
4km to go
Julian Alaphilippe, Michal Kwiatkowski, Peter Sagan, Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Matteo Trentin and Alejandro Valverede and Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) are all in the leading group. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) is closing in on them. Not seen too much of the 2017 Giro d'Italia champion today, but remember he has form at catching groups on descents – as we saw at last year's world championships in Innsbruck, Austria.
6km to go
Alberto Bettiol(EF Education First–Drapac) has attacked and put some time between himself and the bunch. Julian Alaphilippe responds in kind, but the Frenchman is chased by Michal Kwiatkowski and Peter Sagan. Game on.
7.5km to go
Elia Viviani is around halfway down the field while team-mates Zdenek Stybar and Philippe Gilbert wind the pace up on the front. Looks like they are now riding for Julian Alaphilippe. The Frenchman, of course, finished on the podium here in 2017 but has the form right now to improve on that, but can he win a maiden monument of his career?
Luke Roweof Team Sky leads the way onto the Poggio. The Welshman has been in fine form of late and as no stranger to graft will be acting as the postman par excellence here – his aim is to deliver the precious package that is team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski to a position where he can challenge for line honours in a handful of minutes.
10km to go
Deceuninck-Quick Step and Trek-Segafredo both on the front. Peter Sagan using his elbows to protect himself / make his presence known; Caleb Ewan positioned well as they edge towards the bottom of the Poggio.
11km to go
All back as one and Niccolo Bonifazio has been consumed by the bunch after his few minutes in the spotlight on his home roads.
12km to go
Niccolo Bonifazio is around 2km from the start of the Poggio, here's a reminder of what the profile looks like:
13km to go
As it stands no team appears to want to take control of the chase. Surely this will change pretty soon once the main protagonists realise if they don't get a wiggle on soon their chances of victory will be going up in smoke.
14km to go
Greg Van Avermaethas a CCC team-mate leading the way for him. Caleb Ewan, one of the favourites here today, has big numbers. Niccolo Bonifazio, meanwhile, has pulled out 22secs on the bunch.
16km to go
Niccolo Bonifazio's advantage is around 15secs. Dylan Groenewegen is at the back of the main bunch. Surely Bonifazio cannot go all the way, can he (it was rhetorical – he cannot)?
17km to go
Philippe Gilbert has taken up the chase on Niccolo Bonifazio, while Yves Lampaert is leading the bunch on behalf of Deceuninck-Quick Step. Splits have been created in the main pack.
Niccolo Bonifazio (Direct Énergie) attacked around 20km from the line. The Italian is flying at around 80km/h and taking way too many risks for my liking – technically it's great, but I am hoping his mamma isn't watching. However, he's a local lad so knows each and every corner and bump of this road.
21km to go
The race leaders have gone over the top of the Cipressa where there were no attacks. Technical descent here. Dylan Groenewegen is back on and has a Jumbo-Visma team-mate with him.
22km to go
Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) appears to be struggling towards the back of the pack around 1km from the summit of the Cipressa. At the other end of the group veterans Alejandro Valverde and Philippe Gilbert are looking twitchy.
23.5km to go
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) has shown himself on the front, looking relaxed. The Italian missed a team soigneur, but coolly waited before ghosting off the front for a second time when he casually grabbed a bidon from a second road-side helper. It's almost as if the defending champion and his team have thought about where they are placing their staff.
24km to go
Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Peter Sagan are riding alongside each other in the middle of the bunch. That's three very different, but very dangerous riders. No movement yet, no attacks. Not yet, at least. Philippe Gilbert is looming.
26.5km to go
The entire width of the road is being filled with the bunch. Astana continue to lead the way. Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), meanwhile, has shown his face for the first time today. Now that would be something if the French grand tour contender could do something special today, wouldn't it?
26km to go
Fausto Masnada's day is done. The Italian has been caught by the bunch who are motoring their way up the Cipressa. Astana, for the first time today, have numbers near the front. Are they setting something up for an attack from Magnus Cort?
27km to go
Owain Doullis giving it beans with his team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski is on third wheel just behind fellow Pole Michal Golas. Team Sky looking lively as they approach the bottom of the Cipressa.
30km to go
Julian Alaphilippe was just spotted towards the rear of the bunch. A minor spill held up a few riders, but nothing too serious. Teams are starting to organise themselves: Trek-Segafredo (John Degenkolb), Groupama-FDJ (Arnaud Démare), Team Sky (Michal Kwiatkowski), Lotto-Sodal (Caleb Ewan) and UAE Team Emirates (Fernando Gaviria / Alexander Kristoff) are all in formation, protecting their contenders. No sign of Bora-Hansgrohe, but fairly certain they will be tucked in behind, just out of sight.
33km to go
Bora-Hansgrohe, Groupama-FDJ and Team Sky all have numbers on the front and they're just 1min 10secs behind race leader Fausto Masnada (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec). A number of riders from the earlier breakaway are starting to get swallowed up by the main bunch.
35km to go
Fausto Masnada (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) is flying down the descent and will soon reach the Cipressa. Team Sky have taken things up on the front, making sure they are positioned out of harm's way
38km to go
Fausto Masnada (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) has countered and gone past Sebastian Schönberger (Neri Sottoli-Selle Italia-KTM). The Italian is looking fairly comfortable, but the bunch is starting to organise itself. Team Sky now has debutant Tao Geoghegan Hart, Owain Doull and Filippo Ganna near the front. There's a burning bush at the side of the road. As you do.
39.5km to go
Sebastian Schönberger (Neri Sottoli-Selle Italia-KTM) has clipped off the front of the breakaway, while around 1min 20sec back the main bunch are nearing the summit of the Capo Berta – the third of those small climbs.
41km to go
The speed in the main bunch is winding up and the breakaway's advantage has dropped to below two minutes for the first time in around five hours. Just about an hour of today's race to go and things are going to get interesting very soon.
45km to go
Groupama-FDJare the next team to shift their way up the pack. The French team, of course, are hoping their sprinter and 2016 winner Arnaud Démare can win a second title today on Via Roma.
The breakaway's advantage is continuing to drop slightly.
47km to go
As we were on the front of the bunch. Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-Quick Step) is back in his usual favoured position and the breakaway's advantage has dropped to 2mins 15secs.
50km to go
A little bit of movement back in the bunch with Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal) shifting up towards the front. Somewhat impressively, too, is the sight of a number of Israel Cycling Academy riders who are fancying their chances and are making themselves visible.
Capo Mele alert!
The break is nearing Capo Mele, while further back in the main bunch a number of riders are stretching their legs, knowing what is about to come.
Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-Quick Step) appear to be sharing the work on the front.
60km to go
The race leaders are around 10km from the trio of climbs I mentioned earlier – Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta – where riders will be able to test themselves after hours of riding in the same gear, using the same muscles.
65km to go
By the way, the first Italian winner at Milan-Sanremo was a certain Luigi Ganna in 1909. Is that an omen for Team Sky's world individual pursuit champion Filippo Ganna? Probably not – ok, definitely not – but thought I would share that utterly pointless thought with you. The breakaway's advantage has dropped to 3mins 15secs.
70km to go
Elia Viviani was just spotted back in the middle of the main bunch, the Deceuninck-Quick Step sprinter saving a little bit of energy. If today ends in the bunch sprint finish that the Italian is hoping for then the 30-year-old will need every ounce of energy he can muster to beat his rivals.
73km to go
Doesn't look too bad, does it?
76km to go
The absolute diesel that is Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-Quick Step) is doing a big turn on the front of the bunch. Of course he is.
Team Novo Nordisk are again on the front of the breakaway which has seen its lead to drop to a few seconds north of four minutes.
80km to go
Michal Kwiatkowski(Team Sky) appears fairly relaxed and the Pole was just spotted chatting with team-mate Michal Golas while Deceuninck-Quick Step have three riders, including Belgian national champion Yves Lampaert, sat near the front of the main bunch. UAE Team Emirates, Lotto-Soudal, Bora-Hansgrohe and Direct Énergie also have riders near the front, sharing the work as they monitor the breakaway.
Each of these teams has potential winners today. Deceuninck-Quick Step has Elia Viviani and Julian Alaphilippe; Team Sky the aforementioned Kwiatkowski, UAE Team Emirates has Fernando Gaviria and Alexander Kristoff; Lotto-Soudal has Caleb Ewan; Bora-Hansgrohe have two cards in Peter Sagan and Sam Bennett while Direct Énergie have Niccolo Bonifazio and Niki Terpstra.
84km to go
Greg Van Avermaet(CCC) appears to be saving himself, but can the Olympic road race champion pull off something special here today: he's certainly got the pedigree, but does he have the legs?
#VelonLive data for @GregVanAvermaet of @CCCProTeam who has saved as much energy as possible in the first hour hours of @Milano_Sanremo. The pace in the field is increasing every hour and as soon as they hit the first Capos, it will be an all-out race. pic.twitter.com/dKNuehXORT
— Velon CC (@VelonCC) March 23, 2019
86km to go
Interesting statistic here: just 14 riders have won more than one edition of Milan-Sanremo while the last to win back-to-back editions was Erik Zabel in 2001. What that means for Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) is anybody's guess, but I think what we can learn from this is that it is a very hard race to win.
The breakaway is holding at 4min 30sec.
90km to go
Joonas Henttala (Team Novo Nordisk) has been giving the television cameras a smile as the Finn sits on the front of the 10-man breakaway. Their advantage has dropped down to 4min 30secs but are continuing to enjoy their afternoon in the sun. And why not.
95km to go
The breakaway's advantage has dropped ever so slightly to 5mins 3secs.
Incidentally, it is 71 years since a rider dressed in the Italian national jersey won at Milan-Sanremo, but can Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick Step) end that long wait and emulate the great Fausto Coppi today?
Viviani, 30, is part of Deceuninck-Quick Step's ridiculously strong seven-man team including Julian Alaphilippe, Tim Declercq, Philippe Gilbert, Yves Lampaert, Maximiliano Richeze and Zdenek Stybar which, by my reckoning, has a handful of riders that, on their day, could win here. Alaphilippe, of course, is in blistering form while Gilbert could be used on the Cipressa to launch a decoy attack in the hope of luring in chasers and taking with them either Alaphilippe or Viviani. What a terrifying prospect that is for all of their rivals.
Welcome to spring
Perfect riding conditions out in northern Italy. It's around 19°C with a slight cross tailwind on the finishing straight in Sanremo.
125km to go
The riders are tapping along nicely, with the average speed of the fourth hour of racing clocking in at 42.95kph. The breakaway is holding at around five minutes.
By the way, one of my picks – Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) – is making his debut here today. The last rider to win Milan-Sanremo on his maiden outing was Mark Cavendish who failed to make the start line today. The bookmakers were offering 40/1 odds on the Dutchman earlier this week, but will they pay the price for that later today?
Two men down
A pair of riders – Nathan Van Hooydonck (CCC) and Casper Pedersen (Sunweb) – have abandoned today's race.
The breakaway, meanwhile, has seen its advantage drop to just 5mins 10secs.
Who is Telegraph Sport tipping?
Of all the one-day races in the WorldTour calendar, Milan-Sanremo is possibly the hardest to predict, or as 2009 winner Mark Cavendish has repeatedly said throughout his career: “It’s the easiest to finish, but the hardest to win".
With that in mind, here are our selections* for today. . .
Elia Viviani: The Italian national champion is in absolutely blistering form and can expect to start with one of the strongest teams around. Telegraph Sport would suggest, on form, now may be the time for the 30-year-old to finally win a monument.
Fernando Gaviria: The former team-mate of Viviani's appears to have made a smooth transition over to UAE Team Emirates where he has managed three wins in 2019 and is one of the many sprinters who will arrive in Milan confident of getting a result.
Caleb Ewan: The pint-sized Aussie sprinter who finished as runner-up last year has looked sharp this year and will be hoping to take a step up to top spot on the podium on Saturday.
Dylan Groenewegen: The Dutchman will arrive in flying form having won back-to-back sprint stages at Paris-Nice, but can the Jumbo-Visma sprinter make it a winning debut on the longest one-day race in the WorldTour calendar?
Julian Alaphilippe: The second Deceuninck-Quick Step rider here and although he can not match team-mate Viviani in a one-on-one sprint, the in-form Frenchman has enough in his locker to improve on his third-place finish from 2017.
Peter Sagan: Has struggled with form and fitness recently, but as one of the greatest all-rounders of a generation the two-time runner-up – 2013 and 2017 – must be ignored at your peril.
Michal Kwiatkowski: Was a late addition to the Team Sky line-up, but the Pole who won here in 2017 arrived in strong form off the back of a decent ride at Paris-Nice. Definitely one to watch.
Sonny Colbrelli: The Italian sprinter will be just one of two cards his Bahrain-Merida team can play with defending champion Vincenzo Nibali being the other.
Sam Bennett: Another of the sprinters that will arrive confident having won two stages at Paris-Nice and though the Irishman is likely to be overshadowed by Bora-Hansgrohe team-mate Sagan, may benefit as eyes focus on the Slovakian.
Magnus Cort: Fresh from winning a stage at Paris-Nice, the young Dane will lead the Astana charge though will be hoping the race does not conclude in a bunch sprint finish.
* I could have probably picked another 10 or 15 riders such is the lottery in a race like Milan-Sanremo. There are few races in the calendar like Milan-Sanremo where either a sprinter, puncheur, breakaway rider or ever a grand tour specialist can prevail. In fact thinking about it, I am already starting to regret trying to predict today's outcome. That said, here are a few more riders I wished I had also mentioned: Arnaud Démare, Zdenek Stybar, Michael Matthews, Greg Van Avermaet, Alexander Kristoff, Jasper Philipsen.
As it stands
Ok folks, as I mentioned today is a long day in the saddle and host broadcasters have not even started showing the race, however it is very much under way and the leaders have passed over the Passo del Turchino.
There's a 10-man breakaway up the road which, unsurprisingly, is made up entirely of riders from the Pro-Continental division. Here they are: Joonas Henttala (Team Novo Nordisk), Andrea Peron (Team Novo Nordisk), Charles Planet (Team Novo Nordisk), Umberto Poli (Team Novo Nordisk), Guy Sagiv (Israel Cycling Academy), Mirco Maestri (Bardiani-CSF), Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani-CSF), Fausto Masnada (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Luca Raggio (Neri Sottoli-Selle Italia-KTM) and Sebastian Schönberger (Neri Sottoli-Selle Italia-KTM).
Their advantage on the bunch is almost six minutes, but with over 140km of the race to come I don't think any of the favourites will be too worried.
Ciao, buongiorno and welcome to our live rolling blog from the 110th edition of Milan-Sanremo. As will probably know today's race, the opening monument of the season, is a long one – 291 kilometres to be precise, though with the short neutralised section at the start nudges the 300km mark. The riders, who set off from Milan at around 9.10am (GMT), will take around seven hours to complete the course so we can expect a gallop down Via Roma at around 4pm.
For those unfamiliar with the course, it looks a little like this . . .
. . . as you can see there are a few strategically-placed lumps, the first being the Passo del Turchino that comes 177km into the race. Though unlikely to cause too much of a shakedown – it's way too early in the race for that – the Turchino represents the point at which the riders, once though the tunnels, hit the coastal road synonymous with la classica di Primavera following its journey south from Milan.
Around 50km from the line a trio of short climbs – Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta – serve to test the riders. Again, unlikely to shell any main contenders but will be a taste of things to come in the final, and decisive, part of the race. Though not everybody's favourite race in the season, Milan-Sanremo is a lesson in patience – for both riders and observers. However, once they near the business end of the day it can get all a little fraught and frantic. It is worth remembering, too, that while these small climbs are not especially difficult, the switch from riding on the flat for hours upon end in the same gear at the same rhythm to having to contend with a small climb can cause all sorts of problems. Muscles can seize up withing a flash and, if unprepared, if an attack goes your race can be done. Patience, focus, concentration and, of course, form is all key to winning Milan-Sanremo. And good fortune.
So, where are the really important points in today's race?
With around 30km of the race to go, two climbs – the Cipressa and Poggio – will test the riders, especially those with designs on winning a bunch sprint finish . . .
. . . first up is the Cipressa. Though short and not especially hard, with over 260km in the legs this can bite, especially when peaking out at 9% in gradient. The descent, too, can be very technical and riders will have to keep their wits about themselves. A few riders have seen there races come to a premature end here in recent years. Luckily, though, today is quite dry out in northern Italy so the roads should not be too slippy.
Once over the Cipressa, the riders will pass along another flat section of road before hitting the Poggio, at great speed. While the sprinters will attempt to position themselves on the front, knowing they will drift back through the bunch once the road ramps up, those puncheurs that are also able the descend and are able to sprint may wait until the steepest section of the climb (at 8%) to launch an attack, as we saw in 2017 when Pater Sagan took with him Michal Kwiatkowski and Julian Alaphilippe.
The descent is another technical one and one suited to those confident enough in themselves to attack knowing they have the power to ride out of the corners aggressively. There's a real art to racing these kind of descents.
Although referred to by some a sprinters' classic, the last two editions were won by riders who attacked on the final climb, the Poggio.
The late Tom Simpson became the first British rider to win Milan-Sanremo in 1964 when he outwitted France's Raymond Poulidor on the final Poggio climb before claiming the first of three monuments on his palmarès. Mark Cavendish became the second Briton to win Milan-Sanremo after outsprinting Heinrich Haussler to the line in 2009.
Italian riders have dominated the race since its inception in 1907 where they have won 51 of the 107 races. Following a relative drought for the host nation, Vincenzo Nibali ended a 12-year wait for Italy with his win last year – Filippo Pozzato (2006) being the previous Italian to prevail.
But how will today's race play out? Stay tuned to find out.