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Cavendish: ‘I wanted to prove I am a great rider’

Cavendish celebrates a surprising win.

Cavendish celebrates a surprising win.

Photo: Graham Watson

Mark Cavendish proved the skeptics wrong yet again. After most experts believed he couldn’t get over the late-race climbs, the Columbia-Highroad rider sprinted to a dramatic victory to win the 100th Milan-San Remo.

Here are excerpts from his post-race press conference:

Question: What does it mean to you to win a classic?

Mark Cavendish: Each race is special, each time you cross the line is important. The different types of races, when you win stages, you prove you’re a great sprinter. When you win a one-day classic, you prove you’re a great rider. I wanted to prove that I am more than a great sprinter, that I am a great rider, and that’s what I did today.

Q: Some sprinters said you couldn’t get over the climbs?

MC: Absolutely, I knew what they were saying after Tirreno. Tom Boonen said I was getting dropped on all the climbs. If you count the times I got dropped in Tirreno, it was one time, no other times. I knew I had to play it easy in Tireno, because I knew I had good form and a good team. One of the sweetest things today was seeing Tom Boonen go past me backwards on the climbs.

Q: How much did your work with Erik Zabel help you?

MC: Without his help I wouldn’t have won today. We did recon twice, I knew exactly where I had to be at each time, when I could go hard where. His knowledge got me through the bike race. The team worked perfectly, they knew that I knew what I had to do. We had 3-4 guys who could have won, but they sacrificed their chances to let me help me win. It’s a real special day for us both.

Q: Haussler seemed to surprise everyone in the final sprint, how did you manage to win?

MC: When he went, he took everyone by surprise. There was a small opener on left that I could have followed him, but it was too close to the barriers. I had to wait for gap to open. It was touch and go if could get him. I got on his slipstream and just got him on the line. It was a close call. I’m glad I did it.

Q: You were saying it was not possible that you could win, did you believe that you could win?

MC: I said maybe I cannot win, I never said it was impossible, everything is possible. I knew it would be hard, if I could play a little poker in the last weeks. Play along about what other people thought about me, what they thought my weaknesses were. But when the people that mattered had the faith in me, that was myself and my teammates. Tommy Lövkvist, such a stronger attacker, took me on the second wheel in Cipressa. George Hincapie guided me to the Poggio, and then went full-gas and led me to fourth wheel with 400m, that was perfect

Q: Where do you go next after this victory?

MC: More wins. Every time I put my leg over the bike, I want to be first across the line. Now I’ve achieved this target, I’ve got to set new targets. I have to keep racing aggressively. I have the right environment, the right people around me. I hope to make the most of it.

Q: How important was it to make it over the Maniè?

MC: I was lucky there. I started the climb in top 10, which was perfect. As it happened, it didn’t go too hard up there. I felt really good up that climb, then I knew I was capable of getting over the capi, the Cipressa and the Poggio in good position.

Q: What does this mean to you to win this race?

MC: I just won a monument. It’s my first monument I’ve ever ridden. It’s one of the races you watch growing up. I take a lot of desire to win from the fact that a lot of people write me off. The commentator on British Eurosport was adamant that Haussler got him at the line, because they couldn’t believe he’d won it. That’s how it is, a lot of people cannot believe that I can do what I can do. When the right people put faith in me, it’s so special. The guys put so much faith in me today. It worked.

Q: Tomorrow, will your win knock soccer off the front pages in England?

MC: No chance, it’s only the Olympics and Tour de France in the national news. I don’t care about this, I’m doing because I love to race, love to be with my teammates, and love doing what I’m doing. This is what’s important to me.

Q: Today you climbed better than Armstrong, what do you say about that?

MC: It’s a big surprise, why? I’ve worked hard on my climbing. At San Remo, it’s not about being the best climber. It’s about being positioned on the climbs. I was in best position because of my teammates.

Q: Haussler almost won, how did you manage it?

MC: I was just concentrated on crossing the line first. It doesn’t matter if you win by one kilometer or by one centimeter. When you win, you win.

Q: Mario Cipollini spoke to you, what does that mean?

MC: He congratulated me. He’s a nice guy. After I made a fuck-up last year in California and lost him as a friend forever (ed – when he passed Cipollini in the prologue pedaling with one leg), he’s a real nice guy. I’m glad when someone of that statue in the sport can be happy for me, that makes me really happy also.

Q: You were crying at the finish, is this the most emotional you’ve ever been in a race?

MC: I cried when I won the world championships for first time, at the first stage of Tour de France, and today. These are three big things and big targets of mine. They were realistic goals, but everything had to go right on this day. They were all different. World’s on the track, the stage in the Tour, this is a one-day monument, this are the biggest things you can do in the different disciplines, so it makes me really happy.

Q: You live in Italy, can you tell us something about your life here?

MC: Since 2006, I came and stayed part of the year in Quarrata with Max Sciandri. We’ve became really good friends. I like Italy. I’m not going to be out so much as I like. It makes sense to stay on Isle of Man to prepare for the classics. For the Tour, it makes perfect sense to train in Tuscany. I love the life here. The people down there treat me great. The food, the weather, the people, everything is perfect. If it were up to me, I’d be out here a lot more than I am.

Q: You will race the world championships on the track, why?

MC: The reason is it makes me so fast is the leg speed, for sure I get the leg speed from the track. What people don’t see is the fine details I put into my training and my lifestyle to be able to be here. It made sense a little bit on the track to keep my leg speed. For sure, I am doing 100-200km in training, I am getting stronger in the climbs, but there’s no point to get to the finish and not be able to sprint. I don’t gain financially and I don’t get remembered for racing the track, but if you look at the fact it will benefit my road career, if it will keep my legs fast, it makes perfect sense.