With the finish line of Milan-San Remo in sight, Belgian Jürgen Roelandts could already taste the podium Prosecco and was fully prepared to raise his arms in victory, but had to watch in horror as FDJ's Arnaud Demare sped past and snatched the win from his grasp and Sky's Ben Swift followed for added injury.
It was a bittersweet moment - on one hand his chance at a major victory denied - but it was a confirmation for the Lotto Soudal rider, who for the second time took third place in a Monument after a strong Tour of Flanders in 2013.
"In the final I asked [Jens] Debusschere to drop me at the wheel of [Nacer] Bouhanni. Last year I waited too long in the sprint, and I was trapped and ended up eleventh," Roelandts said to Sporza. "That was a mistake I did not want to make again."
As chaos unfolded after Etixx-Quickstep's Fernando Gaviria crashed in the final chicane with 250m to go, Roelandts started his sprint early and immediately opened a gap of two bike lengths on a distracted Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) at the head of the sprint.
Just behind, Bouhanni slipped a gear and blocked up the works, but Demare dodged around and locked onto Roelandt's wheel with Swift in tow.
"I thought: either they will pass me, so be it, or not and I win Milano-Sanremo," Roelandts said. "50 meters from the finish I thought I would make it, but it was unfortunately just not. I was beaten by two riders who were faster but not stronger."
"I'm wavering between disappointment and satisfaction, but I think I will be still mostly satisfied tonight. I've already been on the podium of the E3, the Ronde and Sanremo. I would love to get the win in such a great race. I have to thank the whole team because they really rode completely in my service. On the Cipressa and the Poggio I had a lot left."
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