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2011 Milan-San Remo champion Matt Goss (HTC - Highroad)
Italian directeur sportif suggests Goss could be as good as De Vlaeminck
In 2009 he helped mastermind Mark Cavendish's victory. On Saturday he suffered in the team car knowing that Matt Goss was the only HTC-Highroad rider in the front group of 44 but he knew that the 24-year-old Tasmanian was on form and had the speed to win the sprint.
Piva is Italian but has lived in Belgium since the end of his own ten- year professional career, and he helped Goss give Australia its first ever win at Milan-San Remo.
"I knew he was on great form and that's why he had a leadership role in the team," Piva explained after giving Goss a emotional hug and letting out a shout of celebration to release the pent-up tension after seven hours of racing.
"We'd decided that if Cavendish was up there on the Poggio that Matt would have worked for him, but the crash before the Manie and then Freire's crash on the descent of the Manie split the group. Matt was in the front group, kept cool all the way to the finish and then finished it off fantastically."
Piva and the other HTC-Highroad directeurs sportifs have been working with Goss since he joined the team from CSC in 2010. He showed his potential during his two seasons with Bjarne Riis, but HTC helped him to emerge and show his full potential.
As good as Roger De Vlaeminck?
Piva went as far as comparing Goss to legendary Belgian classics winner Roger De Vlaeminck, who won Milan-San Remo three times and Paris-Roubaix four times in the seventies.
"In just a few years he could win as much as De Vlaeminck did," Piva predicted. "That's a huge comparison to live up to but he's a real talent. You have to be to win a huge race like Milan-San Remo."
"He's built his success year after year and is still emerging. He's very fast in a sprint but gets over the climbs without any problem. He proved he's not scared of responsibility or pressure. I'm sure he'll do even more great things in the future."
Piva revealed that the HTC-Highroad team had a two leader strategy for Milan-San Remo with Cavendish offering a possible sprint option if the race stayed together, while Goss was free to ride for himself if the race split and Cavendish was not in the front group.
The crashes before and on the Manie climb, 90km from the finish, turned this year's Milan-San Remo upside down. Cavendish had punctured just before the climb and so was stuck in the second group with crash victims Thor Hushovd and Oscar Freire.
Goss was in the front group of 44 riders and so HTC-Highroad opted not to work to bring the race back together, confident that Goss had a good chance of victory even if he was alone.
"We knew that Mark was in the about same form as in the past but with Goss going so well, it made our tactics a lot easier," Piva explained.
"Mark won Milan-San Remo and so it was right that he had a chance to show what he could do. He was motivated and that's why he started as team leader but that also helped keep Goss out of the spotlight and keep the pressure off him. It was a tense finale to the race but we did it."