Gerald Ciolek won the Milan-San Remo classic yesterday, but the real drama came from the skies as cyclists battled conditions so appalling some were reduced to tears.
Ciolek edged out favourite Peter Sagan, surging past the Slovakian in the final metres to win the 298km race in 5 hours, 37 minutes, 20 seconds. Fabian Cancellara finished third.
The race, one of cycling's five "Monuments", the world's most prestigious one-day races, had to be shortened by 45km, cutting out the Turchino pass and the crucial Le Manie climb, because of heavy rain and snow.
Tom Boonen, 2011 winner Matthew Goss and Vincenzo Nibali were among those who abandoned the race, and there were reports of tears in the peloton because of the extreme cold.
"I think my decision says enough," a furious Boonen said just after quitting. "This is partly a precaution, but also a statement to the organisation. They knew long enough that there was so much snow on the road. What happens now is the organisation's own fault. Have you ever wanted to bicycle through the snow?"
As the race went on it was announced that the Turchino climb would be bypassed and the Manie followed.
The Manie, where 2009 winner Mark Cavendish was edged out last year, could have been crucial as it is traditionally where the contenders emerge and sprinters are dropped.
The six leaders had an advantage of 7 minutes, 10 seconds over the peloton as it rolled into the neutralised area.
The race restarted two hours later with the news that Boonen was one to pull out during the break. Goss swiftly followed him, with the Australian in pain after an earlier crash.
Nibali, who finished third last year, and had an outside chance of adding to his victory in the Tirreno-Adriatico, retired 38km from the finish.
The peloton began reeling in the escapers in earnest. Bak, Belkov and Rosa were the last to be caught, with 30km remaining.
World champion Philippe Gilbert attacked on the descent of the Cipressa but he was swiftly caught by the peloton. Sagan looked to have won but a late surge allowed Ciolek to cross the line half a wheel in front for the biggest win of his career.