Mark Cavendish admits his chances of victory at this year's Milan-San Remo are slim after a delayed start to his training and a gradual start to his racing. However, he describes himself as a 'wild card' in Dimension Data's selection for La Classicissima, knowing that he has the experience to win if the event turns into a controlled sprinters' race.
Cavendish won Milan-San Remo in his debut appearance in 2009. He was on great form and managed to stay in the front group, despite attacks on the Cipressa and Poggio climbs. He moved up through the peloton in final kilometres and then sprinted late to catch and narrowly beat Heinrich Haussler.
The Manxman has gone on to win 145 races, including the world title in 2011 and 30 stages at the Tour de France, but that Milan-San Remo win remains special. He is ready to race for 291 kilometres Saturday even if he sees himself with little chance of victory.
"Even if I'm not in top form, I'm still going to ride. Even if I'm not option A for the team they may as well take me as a wild card. There's always a chance of winning Milan-San Remo. You just never know," Cavendish told Cyclingnews.
"I'm not on great form but I know the route, I know how the race unfolds. That always helps, so we'll see what I can do."
Cavendish has raced for 20 days so far in 2017, winning a stage at the Dubai Tour and landing other placings in sprints. However, after his long season of success on the track and the road in 2016 – he raced and trained constantly from November to November – he needed time to recover during the winter and so has gradually eased into the 2017 season.
His major goals for 2017 are in the Tour de France where he hopes to add to his tally of 30 stage victories and move closer to Eddy Merckx's record of 34. Cavendish is expected to ride Gent-Wevelgem and Scheldeprijs in Belgium in the spring, before heading across the Atlantic for the Tour of California in May.
This year's Milan-San Remo will be Cavendish's ninth ride. In 2014 he finished fifth in the sprint behind Alexander Kristoff. The year before he was ninth in a chase group after heavy snow and freezing rain disrupted the race. Other times he has been dropped on the Cipressa or the Poggio and finished in the pack.
Cavendish knows he could reach San Remo disappointed again this time but he still wants to race, and Dimension Data also need him. Their other chances lie with Edvald Boasson Hagen, Steve Cummings, Kristian Sbaragli and Mark Renshaw but none have the experience and speed of Cavendish. He will be riding in hope of sprinting up the Via Roma.
"Milan-San Remo is the easiest race to finish but the hardest to win. There are so many scenarios that happen and at over 300km, every centimetre counts," Cavendish explained.
"You never know if it's going to be a sprint, if someone can stay away until the very last metres of the race. You just never know, even as a rider in the race. The whole day just builds and builds, and gets faster and faster. You can also feel good in the finale but then crack and lose your chance. It can be heart breaking but is always worth the risk."
A bet with Sagan
Cavendish revealed that he talked to Peter Sagan about Milan-San Remo during a quiet moment in the peloton at Tirreno-Adriatico. He tried to convince the world champion to a personal bet on who they think would win. However, Sagan was not keen to bet against himself.
"Sagan was telling me that he's not a fan of Milan-San Remo because you just never know how the race will be decided. But that's the very thing that I like about it," Cavendish revealed.
"We agreed that we couldn't choose each other but in the end, he wouldn't do it. He seemed scared."
It seems that Sagan is betting on himself winning on Saturday. Cavendish? He has gone for Sagan's biggest threat.
"I think Fernando Gaviria will win. My money is on him. He should have won last year and I think he'll get it right this time."
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