With mass abandons at Tirreno-Adriatico, who will be ready for Milan-San Remo?

With Cavendish, Goss and Gilbert among more than a dozen riders to to peel their numbers in Offida

OFFIDA, Italy (VN) — Most of the top Milan-San Remo favorites abandoned Tirreno-Adriatico in Monday’s penultimate stage, leaving many wondering who would to be ready for Saturday’s showdown in “La Primavera.”

Last week, a stomach virus swept through the peloton at Paris-Nice, knocking back such riders as Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) and Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing).

This latest rash of abandons doesn’t seem to have any one underlying theme, except perhaps a case of nerves ahead of the season’s first major classic.

Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and defending MSR champion Matt Goss (GreenEdge) both pulled out after coming down with colds, while Sky’s stage-winning tandem of Edvald Boasson Hagen and world champion Mark Cavendish also pulled the plug during Monday’s hilly, technical circuit course.

Gilbert tried to play down media reports that suggest he’s not going to be in fighting shape to get through the demands of the 298km Milan-San Remo course, the longest of the racing season.

BMC team doctor Max Testa said Gilbert was suffering from a slight fever that knocked him out of Tirreno, but he is expected to start Milan-San Remo.

“He was able to sleep ok. This morning he had a little headache, a sore throat and a few degrees temperature. We didn’t want to take any chances,” Testa said. “It looks like it is a virus, an upper respiratory infection. It’s best not to fight it before Milan-San Remo so it will not impact his San Remo performance. He’s stopped, just resting.”

GreenEdge reported that Goss came down with a minor cold and didn’t want to risk him getting any worse ahead of Saturday’s big defense.

“Matt is going really well, and we don’t want to run any risks before the big, one-day races coming up,” said GreenEdge sport director Matt White. “In pulling him out of the race now, after two really hard days, we’ll still be able to count on him recovering fully for Milan-San Remo and the other big classics.”

Other names exited simply to stay fresh for Saturday’s showdown. That was certainly the case for the Sky trio that pulled out on the hilly circuit course.

“There’s nothing seriously wrong with (Boasson Hagen), he is just feeling the effects a bit after his crash, and with the great form he has shown over the past month, we wanted to give him the maximum recovery time ahead of Sunday,” said Sky coach Rod Ellingworth. “We didn’t want to take any risks with his fitness before Milan-San Remo.”

Ellingworth told reporters that Cavendish had “done enough this week” and simply wanted to recover ahead of Milan-San Remo.

The Manxman has said that winning Milan-San Remo in the rainbow jersey is one of the top goals of his career. After a slow start, the world champion has shown top form recently, taking wins at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and the second stage at Tirreno.

In all, 22 riders did not start or finish Monday’s stage, including Lars Boom (Rabobank), Bernhard Eisel (Sky) and Robert Hunter (Garmin-Barracuda). Alessandro Pettachi (Lampre-ISD) did not finish Sunday’s climbing stage.

So far, it’s been difficult to read the tea leaves at Tirreno-Adriatico, which has been more challenging than in past editions and offers few chances for the MSR favorites to strut their stuff.

Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack) has looked strong, especially after his performance to win Strade Bianche two weeks ago, and will be a favorite for Tuesday’s short time trial stage.

Monday’s stage winner Joaquim Rodríguez said two riders have stood out during this week of racing: his Katusha teammate Óscar Freire and Liquigas-Cannondale’s Peter Sagan.

“Óscar is very concentrated and very strong right now. He decided not to take any risks in the sprints this week. He has the experience to get through 300km,” Rodríguez said. “Sagan is looking very good as well. The high mountains were his only weak point, but we’ve seen how he’s climbing this week that he will get over the Cipressa and the Poggio. I think he’s going to be very good at Milan-San Remo.”

Tirreno-Adriatico results >>

Complete coverage of the 2012 Tirreno-Adriatico