Cadel Evans (BMC) finished his European career with one last effort for teammate Philippe Gilbert in the finale of Il Lombardia and finished 25th, in a chase group, 46 seconds behind winner Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp).
The tifosi at the finish in Bergamo were as mad and uncontrolled as ever, and mobbed Evans as he searched for his BMC soigneur, a drink and some directions to find the team bus. With his face dirty and his legs tired after 260km of racing, there was little time to realise that he would never race in Europe again. But it was another significant step towards his retirement.
“I gave my last effort to put Gilbert at the front for the last climb to Bergamo,” Evans told Cyclingnews as he tried to escape from the crowds.
“Once I got into the race and focused on my race, I wasn't that emotional.”
He later said on Twitter: “Il Lombardia done...my last race in Europe, thank you all for making an enjoyable one! #imalittleemotional”
At the start of Il Lombardia in Como, Evans seemed to enjoy the moment and the goodbyes. He brought his young son Robel to the start and onto his final sign-on podium. On the tape holding his race radio in his ear, he had written 'Grazie' - Thanks.
He received numerous thank you and good wishes from other riders and the fans at the start. Everyone could sense it was a special moment in his long career, first as a mountain bike racer and then on the road.
“I'll definitely miss racing,” he told Cyclingnews.
“I want to do well today but also enjoy the moment. But I know I've got to stay focused on the race but I want to be up front and feel the passion of the race. The passion is always strong in Italian races.
“It's a pretty emotional moment for me. It's my last race in Europe. I want to feel my career was happy, without any regrets. That was always a big motivation for me. I don't have many regrets and want to finish this season on a good note, if that be giving my all for the team or doing a good ride. I want to enjoy it because I know I won't have another opportunity.
"It's been a fanstastic journey. I wasn't very good at the Vuelta but I feel I'm coming round well. I'll be fit during my off season ...
"I leave the sport satisfied and looking forward to the future. I've had enough and given my all. I can't add much more to my palmares in the future, and so I have to be satisfied with that. I've had some good results in the last 20 years and so I'm not going to complain.”
Evans admitted that his first thoughts of retiring came last year. He made the final decision in the summer after not riding the Tour de France and announced his decision just before the World Championships in Ponferrada. He now only has three races left to race, all in Australia.
“My big goodbye will be in Australia,” he said. “I'll ride the national championships, the Tour Down Under and then the race in my name, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Race on February 1. That's when I'll probably be really emotional.”