Julian Alaphilippe ended France’s wait for victory in the men’s road race at the International Cycling Union (UCI) Road World Championships after a well-executed attack in Imola.
France’s last triumph in the men’s road race was achieved by Laurent Brochard in 1997, but their hopes were high with Alaphilippe considered among the favourites to win the 258.2-kilometre race.
An early breakaway had stayed clear until 70km to the finish, as the race entered the closing stages of the event which saw the peloton complete nine laps of the course.
Newly-crowned Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar delivered a dangerous attack on the penultimate lap.
The Slovenian was joined by Dutch star Tom Dumoulin, but the duo were unable to hold off the chasing peloton.
The final climb of the Cima Gallisterna would prove decisive as Alaphilippe launched a move with 12km left of racing.
The Frenchman established a narrow lead over a chase group containing Tour de France runner-up Primož Roglič of Slovenia, Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang, Belgium’s Wout van Aert, Switzerland’s Marc Hirschi and Poland’s Michał Kwiatkowski.
Alaphilippe benefited from the chasing group failing to cooperate, which allowed the 28-year-old to edge further clear.
Alaphilippe held off the group to secure victory in a time of 6 hours 38min 34sec.
"For this moment it’s really hard to say something," said Alaphilippe, who also secured a stage win on the second day of this year’s Tour de France.
"I want to say thank you to all my team mates who really believed in me today.
"Everybody did a great job.
"It was a dream of my career.
"Sometimes, I was so close, and I was never on the podium.
"I came here with a lot of ambition and it’s just a dream day for me."
The chase group finished 24 seconds adrift of Alaphilippe, with Van Aert using his sprint finish to secure the silver medal.
Hirschi continued his impressive season by securing third place in a photo finish with Kwiatkowski, leaving the 2014 world champion in fourth.
Fuglsang and Roglič finished in fifth and sixth place respectively.
Five of the top six riders secured stage wins at the Tour de France, with Fuglsang the best finisher from the riders not to feature at the first Grand Tour of the coronavirus-impacted season.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach was among the spectators at the World Championships, which were only awarded to Imola earlier the month due to Switzerland being unable to host due to the pandemic.
Major races are set to continue in the congested calendar, with both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España beginning in October.