Liquigas-Cannondale went three-four in Saturday’s Milan-San Remo, but the team was left wondering what could have been had things just gone a little differently.
Vincenzo Nibali initiated the race-winning move over the Poggio, but didn’t go fully on the attack when it appeared the chase group was going to reel the three leaders in.
Peter Sagan confirmed he’s a power to contend with at just 22 by taking the group sprint for fourth at two seconds back, but the team is left with a third-place podium spot when the win could have gone their way.
Sagan tried to put a positive spin on what was a close-but-no-cigar weekend for the Italian outfit.
“I made a step forward in an extremely difficult race,” Sagan said. “I now know I have what it takes to win and I can come back in the future to try for the victory.”
Liquigas had a similar strategy as GreenEdge, with Nibali set to give it a go on the Poggio while saving Sagan for the sprint. GreenEdge played the same tactics perfectly, with Simon Gerrans attacking on the final climb and defending champion Matt Goss in reserve for the mass gallop.
Liquigas rode well throughout the decisive climbs late in the race, with riders such as Daniel Oss and Valerio Agnoli lighting it up over the Cipressa and Poggio. Agnoli went on the lower flanks of the Poggio to set up Nibali, who sprang clear of the still 50-rider strong front group with just over 1km to go on the short but steep climb.
Eventual winner Gerrans immediately marked his wheel and Fabian Cancellara bridged over near the top of the Poggio.
Cancellara gave everything, but Nibali stayed on his wheel without taking a pull while Gerrans only took two short pulls before the trio slipped in just two seconds ahead of the chasing front group.
For Nibali, third place is a career-best, but he knows things could have tilted the other way.
“I feel a sense of satisfaction and disappointment at the same time,” Nibali said. “I did what I could, at the right time and the right way, but I had little chance of winning with riders such as Gerrans and Cancellara. As everyone knows, I am not the most competitive in the sprint.”