Milano-Torino enjoyed a new calendar spot, taking prime position on the lead-in to Milan-San Remo this Wednesday, and QuickStep-AlphaVinyl sprinter Mark Cavendish was the man to triumph on the Corso Francia in Rivoli to take his third win of 2022.
However, rather than warming up for another run at La Classicissima, the race he won in 2009, Cavendish won't be taking the start inside the historic Vigorelli velodrome on Saturday. Instead, his team has called up Fabio Jakobsen after Julian Alaphilippe's was ruled out with bronchitis.
Speaking at the press conference following his win, Cavendish said that he would have liked to have made a return to the race where he beat Heinrich Haussler 13 years ago. However, he said that he and his team hadn't spoken about taking part in Milan-San Remo.
"You'll have to ask the team," Cavendish said. "No-one from the team talked to me about it, so I don't know, I don't know. Obviously, I have won it. I'd like to do it, but nobody talked to me so...
"I'm on a separate programme this year," he added. "I don't really do any big races, though I'll be back in Italy for the Giro d'Italia."
A perceived intra-team sprint 'competition' between Cavendish and Jakobsen, who has racked up six wins so far in 2022, has so far been dismissed by all involved, including team management.
The team's prime sprint spot at the Tour de France is the main prize, though so far indications point towards Jakobsen heading to France. Cavendish, should he get his return to the race, would have a chance to stand alone at the top of the Tour's all-time win rankings on 35 stage wins.
But after taking the 159th victory of his career in Rivoli, Cavendish said that he isn't concerned about records or statistics, instead saying that he just loves racing.
"I'm not here for numbers," he said. "The numbers are just a statistic and I'm not a rider on statistics. I'm a rider at heart, and I just love it. I'm having fun with my friends and that's all that matters to me."
Among the friends Cavendish is racing with is lead-out supremo Michael Mørkøv, who was Cavendish's last man on Wednesday. The Dane deposited the sprinter at the front with 150 metres to go, where he finished off a sterling team effort to take the win.
Once the sprint was launched, there was little doubt about who would triumph, with Cavendish having the beating of Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) and Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) at the close of the oldest race in cycling.
"Today we had that team that is dedicated to a full sprint team and then obviously with Michael at the end, you have the best opportunity of everyone," Cavendish said.
"If you take a full sprint team to race without other full sprint teams, you're going to dominate. You can also take one lead-out guy to a race that doesn't have any other sprint teams in it and you'll dominate.
"But when you have a race that has many lead-out teams, you need more than just Michael, you need a full team. And fortunately, I had that here today. We had an incredible group of guys, you know?
"[Pieter] Serry was just controlling it like he does; he knows exactly what to do. And then just a machine of a team. Cattaneo, Devenyns, Vervaeke, Cavagna in his first race back. That's a machine to control it for the final."
After the praise for his teammates, who controlled much of the final run to the line along with TotalEnergies, Cavendish said that he could've stayed in Mørkøv's wheel for even longer, such was the Dane's closing speed.
"Then it's Michael just staying as calm as you like on the inside on the last corner and he was still accelerating when I left his wheel," he said. "I could have stayed on longer and I'm having an easier sprint for myself. That's how good he was, that's how late he left it, that's how perfect he got the timing.
"I was a little bit nervous – I wanted to go a bit earlier, didn't want the others to get the jump on me, and he still even had time to cheer me on as I was passing him. So, I'm super happy with that.
"He's not only important for me; he's important for anybody who has ever ridden with him," Cavendish added. "You know you have the best opportunity when you have Michael Mørkøv.
"And if Michael then has a strong team in front of him, you know that out of 10 sprints, you probably win nine or 10 of those sprints.
"You can rely on him. I was lucky to have Michael come over, especially for this race for me. And it's not just Michael but all the guys we had – the seven guys we had here – I was in with the best shot of winning this race, definitely."
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