Four years after winning his first and only Milano-Sanremo title, Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was determined to add another win in Italy’s grandest one-day race on Sunday.
But Cavendish, who was coming off a recent stage win at Tirreno-Adriatico and was in position for the win at Sanremo, could only manage a fifth-place result after he was out-sprinted at the wet finish line.
“I’m hugely disappointed but I can take some positives from this for the rest of the season,” Cavendish said afterward.
As the front of the race passed under the red kite with 1 kilometer left, Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) started to sprint, a move that forced the favorites — Cavendish and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) among them — into following.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) also followed, and he denied everyone at the line to claim victory.
Cavendish said he didn’t have anyone to blame for being defeated — not even himself.
“I’d like to say I mis-timed my sprint but I don’t think I had another option when Modolo went,” Cavendish said. “It was too early. Maybe in other conditions, if it wasn’t so cold, I’d have a bit left and could stay longer but I really started to sprint and my legs just stopped. I sat down, thought maybe I could go, but they didn’t go anymore.
“Kristof came back so fast, I couldn’t even have got second. I just gave everything to the line and all I could mange was fifth.”
A top-5 result, particularly in the horrendous weather riders faced all day, is respectable. Even for a guy like Cavendish.
Rain and hail mixed with cold temperatures to create miserable conditions on the road. The peloton employed various pieces of gear to stay warm and dry, ranging from rain capes to arm, leg and/or knee warmers. Some even had detachable fenders over their rear wheels.
Was the weather worse than last year’s race, which featured snow and frigid temperatures? Maybe not. But Sunday’s 294km journey was far from comfortable.
“Iljo Keisse looked after me the whole day in the wind, the first 150 [kilometers], it was hard to even communicate, I was freezing,” Cavendish said. “The back of my neck hurt from riding in the cold. You could look around, nobody was talking or communicating with each other, it was so cold.”
Cavendish has said that planned changes to the 2015 route, which will add more climbs, could result in he and other sprinters calling an audible and not racing Milano-Sanremo moving forward. The Pompeiana climb was due to be included this year toward the end of the race but road closures forced organizers to remove it. The ascent would make the course much less friendly to the sprinters in the peloton, the men who make their living winning mass gallops.
For Cavendish, more climbing would amount in a lot more time spent toward the rear of the pack. When asked about losing what could be his last Milano-Sanremo on Sunday, Cavendish deflected.
“It sure is disappointing but like I said, we gave everything, there’s no excuses today,” Cavendish said. “If I could come up with something that would’ve made for a better result, I’d be disappointed but there’s nothing I could’ve done differently today. It was just four guys who beat me in the end.”
And, more importantly to the British sprinter, Cavendish said his form was good and he’s in good condition.
“I felt incredible today,” he said. “I don’t think I could’ve done anything different today. I felt super, the team rode really good for me, just the circumstances in the finish.”