Mark Cavendish passed his final test with top marks ahead of what could be his last Milan-San Remo appearance on Sunday. He sprinted to win Tirreno-Adriatico’s sixth stage along the coast in southern Italy, just six days before his San Remo appointment.
“It’s always hard to do what Sky does, control, and always hard to the do lead out like team Giant does. We have GC guys too,” Cavendish said. “But we won the team time trial and had blue jersey, and still did the sprints and won. Omega Pharma-QuickStep is a super-strong team not only in the legs, but a super group of friends.”
Omega Pharma-QuickStep led its British sprinter into the final kilometre and safely ahead of a crash involving rival André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol). Team-mate Alessandro Petacchi finished off the job for Cavendish and with rivals far behind, he claimed second as well.
The work proves useful for Milan-San Remo. Cavendish decided to put his name back on the start list after reports that the race would skip a new climb to Pompeiana.
Cavendish said, “As soon as I heard the rumour, I was incredibly focused and started training specifically again and trying to lose weight without spoiling the rest of my season. I’m fortunate I get one more shot to do it.”
It could be Cavendish’s last shot to equal his 2009 Milan-San Remo win. Race Director Mauro Vegni told Cycling Weekly that he wants to return to the proposed Pompeiana route next year. The organiser squeezed the climb in between the classic Cipressa and Poggio climbs. At five kilometres, and with all of San Remo’s other difficulties, it spoils the chances for pure sprinters like Cavendish.
“I don’t think it’s private that I disagree with the changes,” added Cavendish. “San Remo has its history and Italians like their history. Changing Milan-San Remo is like getting Banksy to paint the inside of the Pantheon in Rome, it takes away from the history and changes the whole course. I’m lucky to have a chance again.”
Cavendish’s chance comes thanks to recent heavy rains and bad road conditions. The Imperia provincial government told the race organiser that it had to skip the climb and stick with its classic route. And because the organiser RCS Sport already planned to cut La Mànie climb 100 kilometres out, La Classicissima returns even more in favour of the sprinters.
The only catch for Cavendish, and other sprinters like Greipel, is the timing. They had less time to prepare given the last minute change. Worse yet, Cavendish began his season at a slightly slower pace compared to last year.
“I decided to start my season easier this year,” Cavendish said. “I don’t think I’m on different form to last year, probably fresher, less races. I talked to Rolf [Aldag, the team’s sport and development manager] once they took Pompeiana out. I am a past winner. I can step up in big races. I was in the top 10 last year. If I didn’t ride it, I’d regret it in two months. We have many more options [with Tom Boonen and Michal Kwiatkowski], but it’s safe to have that extra option.”