Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) has a special connection with the Lungomare Calvino. Since it took over from the historic Via Roma finish in Milan-San Remo, he has placed on the podium four times. Yesterday, he stood on the third step, remembering his 2008 win and two runner-up spots.
"Starting soon, too late...," Cancellara said at the finish line to a group of journalists. "I think the excuses you can put away because to arrive here is just a victory in itself."
Cancellara attacked at the top of the Poggio. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and eventual winner Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka) marked him.
Ian Stannard (Sky) and Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) led down the descent with 6.2km to race. Cancellara rode with Sagan, Ciolek and Luca Paolini (Katusha). They joined to make six leaders.
Last year, Cancellara came off the Poggio for the last kilometres to the Lungomare Calvino with two others, Vincenzo Nibali and eventual winner Simon Gerrans. Critics said he that worked too much given he had Gerrans, the faster sprinter, for company.
Seemingly not wanting to repeat his mistakes, Cancellara forced pre-race favourite Sagan to work yesterday.
"I was thinking about the sprint, but in the end, it's just a strange race," continued Cancellara. "The way it came out, you can't go home and say it's good or bad because with the food, drinking, stopping, restarting... there were so many strange things."
Snow blanketed the Passo Turchino and forced the organiser to send the riders around on the Autostrada in their team busses. Many lost any desire to race because they had covered the opening 118.5 kilometres from Milan in freezing rain.
"I was so frozen. I went back to the team car and [RadioShack GM] Luca Guercilena gave me back a lot of confidence. That was the key point. I brought the result home, it's not a win, but it feels like a win given the situation," Cancellara added.
"Luckily, the buses were ready and waiting for us to get in. I'm sorry that it's not a true San Remo, because a true San Remo is the Turchino, Le Mànie and springtime."
Cancellara had a long trip home to Switzerland, but today enjoys his 32nd birthday and looks ahead to the next monuments, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
Cancellara appears limited by his lack of options to win a race. His rivals know not to let him have a metre of free space, or he will time trial away solo. They also know, however, that is his only card to play.
Age is also catching up. New riders, like Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) are coming through.
Behind the front six yesterday, Phinney finished solo. He shot free off the Poggio descent, time trialled alone and narrowly caught Cancellara's group.
Phinney and how the lead group rode will have Cancellara re-thinking his plans for the next monuments.
Gerald Ciolekplays perfect tactical game to win Milan-San Remo
Gerald Ciolek sprints to surprise Milan-San Remo win
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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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