The German sprinter was national champion in 2005 and then became under 23 world champion in 2006. He was expected to become one of the great sprinters of his generation. Instead he was quickly eclipsed at T-Mobile by Mark Cavendish's faster finish and more intense ambition.
Ciolek never showed signs of fulfilling his huge potential until joining MTN Qhubeka for 2013. He confirmed his pedigree by beating Peter Sagan after a race of attrition in the rain, snow and cold.
"This is an unbelievable success for us and just an incredible day. We just came here as a wildcard and now we're standing here with the trophy," he said in the winner's press conference, while his bigger name rivals tried to wash away their disappointed in hotels or team buses dotted around San Remo.
"I've been riding my bike for the six years, but people maybe expected too much. If you have great success people expect more success, but it's doesn't always go that way. I was riding at good level and close to victory for example at the Tour de France stage. Of course I'm happy today that it's finally worked out."
"A few people were perhaps surprised when I joined MTN-Qhubeka, but when I heard about this project and the people building the team I always trusted them. They offered me full support and I think I paid them back a bit today. This win is important for my team and myself and I hope that African cycling can benefit from this and the Qhubeka project too. I hope it makes more people aware about it."
No longer a domestique
Ciolek explained that he is now a protected leader at the South African team, while he was often forced to sacrifice his chances for others in recent years.
"For me it's a total different situation. At Quick Step from time to time, I got my chances but I was a domestique for most of the races. I joined this team to definitely be team captain. The big difference is that I get the full support from all riders in every race."
He confirmed that he let Peter Sagan and his Cannondale Pro Cycling teammates fall into the trap of doing too much work and becoming too confident for the sprint finish.
"It's probably a difficult day for Sagan. He was the big, big favourite and had all the responsibility," Ciolek said, showing no pity in the press conference, just as he had shown no pity in the finale of the race.
"I had a plan to follow the attacks on the Poggio. The final kilometres were nervous but I took advantage of his situation in the last 300 hundred metres. It was about who had the fastest legs. I'm super happy to beat him."
Suffering for victory
Despite being happy about victory, Ciolek admitted he had suffered in the cold and snow in the first part of the race. Many in the peloton slowed when they heard that the race would be neutralised but that only left them freezing on the bike before they could climb into the warmth of the team buses.
"It was kind of a strange Milan-San Remo. It was really tough conditions at the beginning and at the end. We did a few kilometres in the bus but everyone was really suffering in the cold and rain it was a strange, hard day," he said.
"The last few kilometres before we stopped and got in the bus was horrible. I was almost crying because my hands were so cold. Everyone knows the pain when your hands heat up, so it hurt after too. It was a strange situation and mentally hard when we started racing again."
Ciolek proudly insisted that his win will not be overshadowed by the terrible race conditions.
"I'll always remember the snow, the hard day and the great victory in the end."