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Alexander Kristoff outsprints 2008 champion Fabian Cancellara to win Milan-San Remo classic

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SAN REMO, Italy — Alexander Kristoff sprinted to victory in the Milan-San Remo classic on Sunday, edging out 2008 winner Fabian Cancellara on a wet and rainy course for the biggest win of his career.

Kristoff pulled away in the closing meters to win the 294-kilometer (183 mile) race in 6 hours, 55 minutes, 56 seconds and become the first Norwegian to triumph in the one-day race.

Cancellara finished on the podium for the fourth successive year, while Ben Swift edged out sprint specialist and 2009 winner Mark Cavendish for third place.

"It was a fantastic victory," Kristoff said. "I didn't believe it when I crossed the line, I was only hoping for a top 10 finish."

PHOTO: Norway's Alexander Kristoff celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the Milan-San Remo cycling race, in Sanremo, Italy, Sunday, March 23, 2014. Alexander Kristoff sprinted to victory in the Milan-San Remo classic on Sunday, edging out 2008 winner Fabian Cancellara on a wet and rainy course for the biggest win of his career. Kristoff pulled away in the closing meters to win the 294-kilometer (183 mile) race in 6 hours, 55 minutes, 56 seconds and become the first Norwegian to triumph in the one-day race. (AP Photo/Gian Mattia D'Alberto, Lapresse)
Norway's Alexander Kristoff celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the Milan-San Remo cycling race, in Sanremo, Italy, Sunday, March 23, 2014. Alexander Kristoff sprinted to victory in the Milan-San Remo classic on Sunday, edging out 2008 winner Fabian Cancellara on a wet and rainy course for the biggest win of his career. Kristoff pulled away in the closing meters to win the 294-kilometer (183 mile) race in 6 hours, 55 minutes, 56 seconds and become the first Norwegian to triumph in the one-day race. (AP Photo/Gian Mattia D'Alberto, Lapresse)

Vincenzo Nibali had seemed on course for victory after attacking on the penultimate climb of the day with 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) remaining. But the Giro d'Italia champion was swallowed back up by the chasing pack with 8K (5 miles) to go.

There was an early break of seven riders who built a lead of more than 10 minutes. But they dropped off one by one and by the time Nibali attacked on the ascent up the Cipressa there was only a two-man group up front. The Italian overtook them on the descent and built an advantage of 49 seconds. But the peloton began upping the pace and cut the gap to 12 seconds at the start of the final climb up the Poggio.

Cavendish had stayed the pace but tired in the closing 100 meters and eventually finished fifth, behind Juan Jose Lobato.

Another pre-race favorite, Peter Sagan, was 10th, just behind defending champion Gerald Ciolek.

Many riders struggled with the rain and cold temperatures, with Kristoff's Katusha teammate Luca Paolini — who served as a valuable lead-out man later — even resorting to pouring hot tea on his freezing fingers.

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PHOTO: Norway's Alexander Kristoff celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the Milan-San Remo cycling race, in Sanremo, Italy, Sunday, March 23, 2014. Alexander Kristoff sprinted to victory in the Milan-San Remo classic on Sunday, edging out 2008 winner Fabian Cancellara on a wet and rainy course for the biggest win of his career. Kristoff pulled away in the closing meters to win the 294-kilometer (183 mile) race in 6 hours, 55 minutes, 56 seconds and become the first Norwegian to triumph in the one-day race. (AP Photo/Gian Mattia D'Alberto, Lapresse)
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