Milan-San Remo podium (l-r): Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek), Matt Goss (HTC - Highroad) and Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma - Lotto)
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The agony and the ecstasy of La Classicissima
Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD)
Scarponi’s Operacion Puerto shadow will always pursue him no matter how fast he rides but his cavalier attack between the Cipressa and the Poggio was a sight to behold. Coming into the race, the Italian was a shoe-in for a do-or-die attack on the final climb, but once his name was listed in the second group containing last year’s winner Oscar Freire and Thor Hushovd, the writing appeared to be on the wall and his race was over. Or so it seemed. The manner of his chase – he took 30 seconds off the leaders on the Cipressa – showed he was the strongest man on the day. Karma’s a bitch though.
Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
A winner, but only just. Gilbert’s performance in Milan-San Remo showed the Belgian at his very best, aggressive, calculating and full of panache, but it also showed a possible frailty through a sense of indecisiveness. Harsh maybe, but his attack on the Poggio came too late, while his move just before the finish looked like that of a man who was expected to attack rather than one who wanted to really take the race by the scruff of the neck. Having so many strings to your bow isn’t always a guaranteed recipe for success.
Matthew Goss, Bob Stapleton and the Highroad production system
A penny for Stapleton’s thoughts as Matt Goss crossed the line to take Milan-San Remo. In the short term the scene appears to be perfect. Goss is having the season of his life, they’re not missing André Greipel and Mark Cavendish has yet to hit top form.
However the flip side could be just as clear-cut. Goss can’t hold this level of form all season, Stapleton could face another Cavendish vs Greipel-style battle and Cavendish is still nowhere near top form. For now, the positive glimmers through, but Stapleton could yet have some tough choices to make.
As for Goss, San Remo was his coming of age and although talk of comparing him to De Vlaeminck is premature, the Australian is the man of 2011 so far, having won in the Tour Down Under, Oman, Paris-Nice and San Remo.
An embarrassment of talent to pick from in 2012 with 13 Australian riders on the start line in Milan, and assuming Shane Bannan’s brigade don’t rub everyone up the wrong way as Sky did last year, they could have one of the strongest teams next season. Their first hurdle will be choosing bike supplier – rumoured to happen later this week.
They’re getting closer to another Classics win and Saturday’s showing suggests that it could happen later this spring. Consistent – two men in the top ten – and aggressive with Greg Van Avermaet and Alessandro Ballan both competing well, the American team has been given a genuine boost in morale ahead of Flanders and Roubaix.
Takashi Miyazawa (Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli)
The start in Milan witnessed one of the most touching moments the sport has seen in recent years. There was a minute’s silence for those lost and affected by the tragic events in Japan, while riders signed the national flag and Japanese national champion moved to the front of the silent peloton and understandably wept.
Once the flag dropped, his racing display was full of courage. Having watched three riders break clear of the bunch, Miyazawa gave chase and promptly latched on. His efforts helped build up a lead of almost 14 minutes and although he and his companions were inevitably caught, Miyazawa still had enough heart and legs to set the pace for Visconti after the Italian missed the split on Le Manie. Miyazawa finished in 134th place. Still a winner.
Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad)
The fact that Cavendish wasn’t able to compete in Sam Remo was hardly a surprise. The Briton has been below par all season and while he has enough race days and targets to justifiably claim he can turn his year around, San Remo will have been a hammer blow to his confidence.
With his contract up at the end of the season and a clutch of sprinters snapping at his heels, Cavendish could face his stiffest opposition from within his own team because in one day, in just one sprint, Goss did what Greipel couldn’t do for almost three seasons – provide Cavendish with true internal opposition and, dare we say it, provide Stapleton with an alternative for July.
Filippo Pozzato (Katusha)
The villain of San Remo, but video highlights suggest that it was Goss who first ignited the pursuit of Gilbert in the closing kilometres. Either way, Pozzato was once again left as the scapegoat for another man’s failure, just as in last year’s Classics when Boonen accused him of constantly wheel-sucking.
Back to the metro-sexual at hand, and Pippo’s weaknesses are two-fold. Quite simply, he lacks aggression at decisive moments. He clearly has the legs to compete at this level, as he has consistently shown over the years, but having done little but wait and follow for so long in the race, it should have been him and not Gilbert on the offensive after the Poggio.
Secondly, while consistency wins you Grand Tours it doesn’t win you many Classics. Pozzato’s problem is that he is good at a lot of things but not exceptional at one. The latter-day Michael Boogerd.
The three pronged attack of Heinrich Haussler, Thor Hushovd and Tyler Farrar was comprehensively blunted in the two critical phases during Milan-San Remo. The first occurred on the descent of Le Manie, as the world champion crashed and Farrar was caught napping, while on the ascent of the Poggio, Haussler, who had said during the pre-race hype that he wanted a blistering pace on the climb, was dropped.
The stark reality is that bar Martijn Maaskant’s two fourth places in Roubaix and Flanders, Garmin have consistently misfired in the Classics. Having signed the best on offer from the defunct Cervélo TestTeam, it was assumed that some of the success would have shifted along on those Cervélo frames. Don’t assume anything. This is still a team in transition.
A complete turnaround from the weekend of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne when they dominated almost the entire weekend. Only Edvald Boasson Hagen made the split after Le Manie and he was shelled out way before the sprint.
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