Michal Kwiatkowski timed his breakaway to perfection to make history as the first Polish rider to win the men’s road race world title on Sunday.
Following a 254km race in torrid, wet conditions, Australia’s Simon Gerrans won a six-man sprint for second ahead of Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, third for the third year in a row.
But it was Kwiatkowski’s break with about 8km left, first reeling in four escapees and then going alone on the final climb, that proved decisive.
And the new owner of the rainbow jersey said he was delighted to have taken the risk, although he admitted his attack wasn’t planned.
“I felt so much pain after the last descent, 1.5km is still a long way cannot,” he said.
“I can’t describe what I felt, this feeling for me to win the World Championships is just incredible.
“I saw the guys coming but I had a little bit of an advantage at the top (of the final climb).
“I knew that it was everything or nothing. I risked but in the end that worked.
“I just didn’t know how I made it because that actually was a very risky attack, but in the end it worked.
“It’s hard to say, I still need to sleep with that and then I will say more about my feelings.”
Gerrans praised Kwiatkowski for timing his attack to perfection.
“To be honest, I didn’t see where Michal slipped off the front but he slipped off the front and had the legs to hold off the bunch, so yeah, he did a really good ride,” said the Aussie, winner of Liege-Bastogne-Liege in April.
“I didn’t see where he slipped off but when he did, I realised it would be really difficult to catch him from there.”
Four riders had a 36sec lead on a group of around 10 chasers and 44sec on the peloton when the riders started the final of 14 laps of the 18.2km circuit around Ponferrada.
As the escapees were close to being reeled in, Kwiatkowski attacked out of the peloton on a fast descent.
He breezed up to the back of the breakaway group and left them all for dead on the final climb, a 1km slog that began with 5km left.
Over the top with just 4km to ride, he had a 9sec lead over six counter-attackers coming out of the peloton.
Amongst them, 2012 world champion Philippe Gilbert sacrificed himself for Belgian team-mate Greg Van Avermaet in leading the chase.
But no-one would help and Kwiatkowski was even able to sit up and celebrate as he crossed the line, just one second ahead of Gerrans.
Gilbert’s efforts were to no avail as Van Avermaet could manage only fifth.
The race had begun with a doomed four-man breakaway that gained 15min on the peloton at one point but had been reeled in with around 70km left.
That was when Italy increased the pace dramatically in the peloton provoking some frenetic racing and a raft of attacks.
Three-time world time-trial champion Tony Martin of Germany went off on his own with around 55km left but was caught just 15km later.
By then France were setting the pace in the peloton and Cyril Gautier made a break inside the final two laps, quickly followed by Italy’s Alessandro De Marchi and Michael Andersen of Denmark, with Vasil Kiryienka of Belarus catching them before the final lap.
It looked like they might have the legs until the hosts upped the pace in the peloton and their gap quickly started to come down.
But rather than Valverde making the decisive break, Kwiatkowskki stole a march on him.
Even when Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez launched the first counter-attack to set up Valverde, it was too late as the Pole had a gap he was not going to relinquish.
Valverde thus took his sixth podium, but with two silver medals and four bronze dating back to 2005, he has yet to wear the fabled rainbow jersey. – Agence France-Presse