Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) came to a stop after the finish line in Milan-San Remo and slumped over his bike, gasping for breath and fighting disappointment after going tantalisingly close to a second victory in the race.
Cavendish fought all day in the wind and rain and managed to stay in the select group of 27 riders that fought for victory. He managed to move up to the front of the group coming into the finishing straight and then started his sprint early after following Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida). However after 300km of racing in the rain, the Milan-San Remo sprint is uniquely difficult to get right.
"I'm real disappointed. I felt incredible today. I felt super on the climbs but then not really in the sprint," Cavendish said at his team bus.
"I'd like to say I miss-timed my sprint but I don't think I had another option when Modolo went. It was the only option I had to go then. 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; I thought maybe I could go but then Kristof came back so fast that I couldn't even have got second, I just gave everything to the line and all I could manage was fifth."
Cavendish was not looking for excuses. He knew he had performed far and above expectations.
"We gave it everything, there's no excuses today, we gave everything," he said.
"I didn't win. 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."
"I'm hugely disappointed but I can take some positives from this for the rest of the season. It's only really you guys (the media) that don't think I can be there in MSR. My team believed in me, I believed in myself, and that's the most important thing for me."
Despite his disappointment, Cavendish praised Alexander Kristoff for his breakthrough victory and his perfect winning sprint.
"He's a very good bike rider. He's always there. He's a deserved winner," Cavendish said. "He's a decent bike rider, I'm happy for him, he's a nice guy, and it's nice to see him get a big win."
Cavendish was the Omega Pharma-QuickStep team leader and protected rider. The Belgian team has shown its strength in the sprints and attacks in several early-season races but Cavendish could only count on Zdenek Stybar in the finish and the cyclo-cross world champion finished two places behind him in seventh place. Alessandro Petacchi did an important turn on the front of the race on the Capo Berta but then struggled and eventually retired. Mark Renshaw and Michal Kwiatkowski also failed to finish, with only Jan Bakelandts also featuring in the official results.
"I'm reasonably happy with how the team rode," Cavendish said.
"A few of the guys were really cold. Iljo looked after me the whole day in the wind for the first 150km and Bakelants did an incredibly good job: he rode the 70km in the wind for me. Stybar was there in the last climbs and always staying with me."
It was so cold. I was really cold today," Cavendish explained.
"It was hard to even communicate; I was freezing. 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."