A blistering late attack in San Remo earned Swiss star Fabian Cancellara a fine victory in Italy?s biggest one-day Classic.
We all knew he could race brilliantly against the clock and was more than a match for the Belgians on the pave. But after twice winning the World Time Trial Championships, the Tour de France prologue in 2004 and 2007 and Paris-Roubaix in 2006, now Cancellara has San Remo in his glittering palmares as well.
Lone victories are rare in San Remo but part of Cancellara?s success was forged as early as La Manie, the new climb in the race. That wiped out some ?pure sprinters? like Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto), whilst another major rival, Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), blew his chances with a daring but wasteful move on the second last ascent of the day, the Cipressa.
After the bunch caught Bettini and promising young Swedish rider Thomas Lovkvist (High Road), another splinter group containing Cancellara, Philippe Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Credit Agricole?s Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) took off on the Poggio.
Gilbert looked like he was the strongest, but it was Cancellara who took advantage of the situation to break away two kilometres from the line. Making full use of his time trial skills, the CSC rider managed to fend off a fast-moving chase group to take Milan-San Remo by a tiny margin.
2006 winner Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) took second, with Gilbert, arguably the strongest rider of the race, third.
But it was Cancellara?s cool head and strong sense of race tactics that earned him a vital win for the CSC squad – on the hunt, like so many other teams, for a sponsor for 2009. It was a win more than reminiscent, too, of one of his most memorable victories – when he attacked in the last kilometre of the Tour de France stage into Compiegne last year.
?This really could be my year.? Cancellara, already the winner of the Tour of California prologue and Tirreno-Adriatico overall in 2008, said afterwards.
?My attack was instinctive. I?d dreamed about making a late move but you can?t decide things like that before the race.?
“I was a favourite and everybody knew that I was going to do something but nobody knew exactly what. It was all thanks to my coolness and my mental strength. During the race I told myself to stay calm and wait for the right moment. That definitely helped me win.?
Cancellara won the Paris-Roubaix in 2006 and now he wants to win the Tour of Flanders race to complete his collection of spring classics.
?At the start of the year my big objectives were the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. I?ve already won Paris-Roubaix and I feel I?m ready for Flanders. Now it?s my number one objective.?
?With my current form I can only lose it if I make a mistake. If I do everything right, there?s no reason why I can?t be up there and win it.?