The Bora-Hansgrohe rider made the attack of the race with his powerful acceleration on the Poggio, dragging the Polish rider and Julian Alaphilippe away. Yet after being forced to do most of the work to ensure the move stayed clear, Sagan was not able to beat Kwiatkowski in the sprint.
Sagan is one of the most feared riders in the peloton, and for good reason. Over 558 races, he's been on the podium 204 times, has, 92 wins and 78 second places. It's put him in the unenviable position of being the one rider nobody wants to work with, because the only way to beat him is to wear him down. He could have been angry with the lack of cooperation, but true to character he accepted defeat sportingly.
"I'm satisfied. The result is important but so is putting on a show for the fans. The strongest doesn't always win," Sagan said after the podium ceremony, clearly convinced he was the strongest despite not winning.
"The only thing missing today was a little bit of co-operation from some other riders. But it's okay. I did my bit and I'm happy with what I did. That's cycling. You race for 300km and you can win by a little or lose by a little. I did my best."
"I did a lot of work in the last five kilometres. They did one turn each but that's normal and it's clear that they recovered more than I did. I produced a lot of watts in the sprint but I didn't win."
An instinctive attack on the Poggio
Sagan seemed keen to preempt any moves on the Poggio by launching the attack himself. His long surge in the second half of the Poggio decided the race and left most of his rivals struggling. Kwiatkowski and Alaphilippe eventually got on to his wheel. The trio had 13 seconds at the top of the Poggio and extended it on the descent.
Sagan revealed that his attack was not planned but came instinctively.
"I hadn't planned anything because racing depends on the legs you have. I didn't think to go so well. I thought other riders would attack, I don't know why they didn't. Perhaps they didn't have the legs…." he explained.
"I tried it this year because there was a tailwind on the Poggio. I had nothing to lose, I tried. I got away and then Kwiat and Alaphilippe came across. I still thought I was faster than them. I thought we'd go away but it's hard to get some help from different teams. But that's cycling. Not always the best can win."
Sagan joked that Kwiatkowski now "owes me a few beers".
He also tried to look to the rest of the spring Classics, where, thanks to his ability, he will still have several chances of victory in Belgium and Northern France.
"We've only really started today with Milan-San Remo," Sagan said. "Now I've got to recover. At the weekend we've got Harelbeke and then Gent-Wevelgem, then Flanders and Roubaix."