Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) remains unsure of his chances to win a second Milan-San Remo on Sunday, March 17. When pressed, he refused to say he could win the Italian Monument. He ruled it out while at the same time saying he would skip it if he thought he had no chance of winning.
"I can't win it," Cavendish said at Tirreno-Adriatico last week. "I can win it, that's why I'll always ride, but it'll take a special set of circumstances to do that."
Cavendish concerns himself with the difficulties. Not only do the 200 participants face 300km and seven hours of racing, but several nasty climbs along the Italian Riviera. Last year, Cavendish lost ground on the first of them, Le Mànie.
The organiser added Le Mànie in 2008 due to a rock slide further down on the coastal road. They liked it so much that they kept it.
It comes 94km out and leaves little time to get back on before I Tre Capi, the Cipressa and the Poggio. [The full Milan-San Remo preview>>]
"No, no, no. I'm realistic, I've always been realistic," Cavendish said when asked if Milan-San Remo was his goal.
"It's a different race. When I won it, Le Mànie was still just seen as a detour around the rock slide. Now the race is a different race... There's an off chance I could win it, but...
"This is what will happen: Cannondale will go full-gas like they have every year on Le Mànie to try to drop me, then they'll f*** themselves, isolate [Peter Sagan], but because he's so good, he'll still win and it'll make him look even better because he's done it all alone. You know what I mean? I tell you, that's what will happen in Milan-San Remo."
Cavendish comments leave many wondering just why he even bothers starting in Milan. He certainly must be hoping for an off chance of a bunch sprint, like when Oscar Freire won in 2010.
"I wouldn't ride it if... If I was riding when I was thinking that I couldn't win, then I'd be riding a lot of other races in the year. There's always an off chance," Cavendish continued. "The thing about San Remo, out 200 guys there are 120 who could possibly win on that day given the right conditions."
Cavendish explained that he is the most relaxed he has ever been at this time of the year because he is not thinking about Milan-San Remo. His rivals refused to believe him.
"If it arrives in a sprint, Cavendish is the favourite, you can't beat him," 2006 winner, Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) said.
"I'll do all I can for it not to end in a sprint. Cavendish is going strong this year, I've see him work for his team in Tirreno-Adriatico. For a sprinter to work for his team in that way shows that he's going well.
"He's trying to bluff, but I don't believe him."
Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard), the 2008 victor added, "Cavendish, Alessandro Petacchi and André Greipel, those pure sprinters... If you have a head-wind all the way down the coast then maybe those pure sprinters will have a chance."
La Squadra Belga
Cavendish and the rest of his Tirreno team-mates based themselves in San Benedetto del Tronto over the last few days. He, Zdenek Stybar, Michal Kwiatkowski, Niki Terpstra and Martin Velits travel to Milan today to meet Tom Boonen, Sylvain Chavanel and Stijn Vandenbergh.
Omega Pharma will rely on Boonen and Chavanel to create and follow attacks over the climbs. In a sprint, Cavendish could rely on Terpstra or, if alone, 'free-style' off of his rivals. In 2009, George Hincapie was his last man.
If he takes the third British win in the race on Sunday - his 2009 victory along with Tom Simpson in 1964 - he can tell us if he was really bluffing or not.
Milan-San Remo 2013: The Big Preview - route details, TV guide and more
Milan-San Remo 2013: Who will win?
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