Mark Cavendish has only been a professional rider for a shade over two years and he’s already netted one of the monuments of the sport. As he develops and continues to broaden his scope, world titles and further Classic wins will be within his reach.
Anyone tempted to fall for the red herring that Cavendish can?t climb may need to reassess their opinion after the Isle of Man sprinter survived La Manie and the Cipressa and looked comfortable on the Poggio to set up a brilliant sprint finish in San Remo.
The 23-year-old became only the second British rider to win the Italian Classic, one of the five single-day monuments of professional cycling, when he closed down the German Heinrich Haussler in the final hundred metres and pipped him by a wheel.
It is the biggest win by a British rider since Tom Simpson?s world title victory in 1965. Until today, Simpson was the only British winner in San Remo, having captured the race in 1964.
Although Barry Hoban won Ghent-Wevelgem in 1974, Milan-San Remo is on another level and victory puts Cavendish among the true greats of the sport already.
In little over two seasons in the professional peloton, Cavendish has cemented his place among the elite. The scale of the victories keep getting bigger, and the question now is what?s next?
Ghent-Wevelgem early next month is the obvious target, and seeing as he finished in the front group last year before misjudging the sprint, he will be one of the favourites. Then he?ll aim to win a stage at the Giro d?Italia and the Tour de France. The green jersey is a goal this season, and to take that all the way to Paris would be a first for a British rider.
As Cycling Weekly said in the run-up to the race, if Cavendish could reach the finish in the front group, he would have a great chance. He is undoubtedly the fastest in the world over 200 metres, and he showed that again by hunting down Haussler when the Cervélo man?s jump looked to have opened enough of a gap.
Of course there were doubts about whether he could survive the pace on the climbs. He said as much himself. But you don?t go to ride the final 150 kilometres of a route beforehand, as Cavendish did with Columbia?s Erik Zabel, himself a four-time winner, if you?re thinking about where you?re going to get dropped.
Yes, he went to learn about the race, but Cavendish is a racer, and given the opportunity he wasn?t going to let it get away.
But it?s clear he was in peak condition. He rode smartly at Tirreno-Adriatico. He didn?t go chasing stage wins every day, but he did have a go twice, winning the last stage after being edged out by Tyler Farrar a few days earlier. It was smart riding, using the stage race as preparation, rather than seeing it as the objective himself.
The role played by his Columbia team-mate George Hincapie mustn?t be underestimated either. He was there, watching out for Cavendish on the climbs. Even when a gap opened on the Cipressa, and Cavendish was on the wrong side of it, he closed up so quickly it was clear he was having a good day.
The Poggio was tame. Much tamer than in recent years, with only one attack, from Davide Rebellin, and even that didn?t split the group up.
Once it was clear the race would end in a sprint, Cavendish was favourite, but it was not a formality. Most of the sprinters had also made it ? Thor Hushovd, Allan Davis, Alessandro Petacchi, Daniele Bennati, Tom Boonen, and Haussler.
But no one had an answer.
Cavendish is the first rider to win Milan-San Remo at the first attempt since Italy?s Gabriele Colombo in 1996. He?s also the youngest rider to win it since Eddy Merckx, who won his second of seven at the age of 21 in 1967.
As Cavendish continues to get stronger, the other Classics and the world title will come within his reach. He will surely overtake Chris Boardman as the British rider with the most professional wins. Milan-San Remo was Cavendish?s 34th victory. Boardman has 41. But it?s not just the number of victories, it?s the scale of them, and Milan-San Remo is one of the biggest.
And Cavendish will continue to climb Cycling Weekly?s exclusive all-time ranking of British pros. He?s up into seventh place in the ranking, which is led by Robert Millar.
Next week Cavendish heads to Poland for the World Track Championships, a decision he made because he felt the Madison would help his leg speed ahead of Ghent-Wevelgem. Doesn’t look like it needs much work.