Speaking to Cyclingnews prior to the start of Milan-San Remo, MTN-Qhubeka team manager Doug Ryder said his team had already achieved a considerable victory by earning the right to line up in the first classic of the season.
"Some of the guys in that bus have got eyes as big as saucers," he quipped. "They're really up for it, but I don't know how they are going to fare in this cold. The South African guys aren't used to conditions like these."
Fast forward nine hours and it was Ryder's eyes that were as big as saucers having seen MTN-Qhubeka team leader Gerald Ciolek deliver a tactical masterclass, topped off with a perfectly judged sprint to clinch one of the most incident-packed San Remo's of recent years.
"How do I feel? I don't know. It's like... incredible," Ryder said as he made a very unexpected dash to the winner's podium to join in the celebrations with his riders and staff.
"There were six riders in the front and we were the only Pro Continental team, which was incredible in itself. But with Gerald riding with [Fabian] Cancellara and on [Peter] Sagan's wheel - well, we know how good he is and we know how well he's prepared. We knew that if it came to the last kilometre and he was third wheel then we knew that he had a chance."
Understandably, Ryder confessed he couldn't believe what he had just seen. "When we heard his name on the radio as being up in the first group, we were laughing because it was so incredible. Because we were such an underdog team no one even looked at us really. When Cancellara and the guys were swapping off, Gerald kept going into third or fourth wheel. He never had to ride on the front. Sagan was going so strongly and what a lead-out he produced, and then Gerald just came off him. Unbelievable! What a rock star!"
Back at the MTN-Qhubeka team bus, Anthony Fitzhenry, founder of the Qhubeka charity that aims to mobilise children in rural communities in Africa by providing them with bikes was as stunned as Ryder.
"It means so much to this team and this set-up. Just getting into this race was an unbelievable achievement. This is going to be front-page news in South Africa tomorrow. It's going to raise the profile of this team and of the charity hugely," he said before the celebrations kicked up another level when Ryder returned with Ciolek's San Remo trophy.
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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