SAN REMO, Italy (VN) — Matthew Goss (HTC-Highroad) won Milan-San Remo in a thrilling eight-up sprint on Saturday.
Goss took the victory in the season’s first one-day monument ahead of 2008 champion Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) and Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) after a late break by Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) came to naught in the final kilometers.
“I didn’t expect to win,” Goss said. “I’m super happy with the ride today. I couldn’t ask for anything more; it was absolutely perfect.”
Defending champion Óscar Freire (Rabobank) and American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) were among those who saw their hopes dashed early. Freire had a problem with his rear wheel on a wet, twisting descent and pulled off to the side of the road. Two teammates stopped to lend a hand, but it took quite a while to get the Spaniard rolling again and he found himself stuck in a second group with teammate Lars Boom, Thor Hushovd and Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) and the ailing Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad), for whom Goss ordinarily works as lead-out man. The 2009 victor said afterward that he had been sick much of the day.
Farrar, meanwhile, got caught behind a crash on the slick descent of Le Mànie.
“I thought I would save my energy on the Mànie, but the descent was wet and slick and I was caught up behind the crash. My race was over there,” he said. “That wet descent off of Le Mànie — that was a big mistake. That’s a crazy descent and it was wet. … It’s a pity. Thor went down in the run-in to Le Mànie and I just sort of botched it.”
As Freire, Farrar and the others spent the next two hours fighting to get back on terms, BMC and Katusha drove a lead group containing Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Filippo Pozzatto (Katusha), Gilbert and André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Cancellara and Stuart O’Grady (Leopard Trek), Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervélo) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky).
The lead bunch had nearly two minutes on the chase at one point, but with 35km to go, as the race roared through Imperia en route to the Cipressa, the groups were separated by just over a minute.
That was more than enough, Freire said.
“The problem was the Cipressa,” he said. “When we rode the Cipressa and didn’t catch them, the race was over for us.”
Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas-Cannondale) attacked on the lower slopes of the Cipressa but got nowhere; Ballan brought him back. With 25km to go the gap remained pegged at 1:10.
Then Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) jumped out of the chase, sweeping past discards from the lead group, as Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack) had a dig out of the front bunch.
Popo’ didn’t make any headway, but Scarponi continued his steady march forward, summiting a half-minute behind the leaders with the Poggio still to come.
Cyclocrosser Steve Chainel (FDJ) was next to pull the trigger, drawing out three other riders, O’Grady among them. Greipel followed, as did Andreas Klier (Garmin-Cervélo), Behind, Scarponi was closing in on the peloton.
With 14.5km to go Chainel was driving the break containing teammate Yoann Offredo, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and O’Grady. Omega Pharma was driving the pursuit some dozen seconds in arrears.
Ten kilometers from the finish, as the Poggio began to bite into their legs, the leading quartet had 28 seconds on the first chase with the Freire group nearly two minutes down and out of the hunt.
With 8.6km to go Van Avermaet attacked the break, quickly opening a gap. Behind, Vinzenzo Nibali (Liquigas) did likewise to the chase, but went nowhere.
The Belgian instantly put a dozen seconds on his erstwhile mates as Nibali had another dig, this time getting cleanly away and closing in on the disintegrating break with 6.5km to race. The Italian shot past a fading Chainel, then hooked up with O’Grady and Offredo, as ahead Van Avermaet soldiered on alone.
“George (Hincapie) said to me it was time to go,” said Van Avermaet. “I was telling myself that I could make it. George (Hincapie) said to me it was time to go. It was a good choice by him. It was good for me because I could ride my own climb on the Poggio.”
As for Nibali, he knew the Poggio was his last chance.
“The only thing I could do was attack on my ground, on the climb,” he said. “I knew it was difficult, especially with a group of these riders.”
“I’m happy. I tried to do all that I can. I’m satisfied and I’m happy with the good action. One thing is good action and one thing is to win. It’s a new experience for me and I know one day I can win Milan-San Remo.”
More riders caught onto the Nibali chase, Goss among them, as Van Avermaet raced down toward the finish. Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil) slid out in a corner, but quickly remounted.
Four kilometers from the line the Belgian held just five seconds over the augmented chase, which now contained Cancellara. He was squarely in their sights.
The catch came at 2.4km to go and Offredo attacked instantly. Then Gilbert laid down a powerful effort. Pozzato responded, and in the final kilometer Nibali took the front of what had become an eight-man group.
It was a mad scramble after that — Scarponi, Cancellara and Gilbert all had their shots, but it was Goss who took the flowers, rocketing up the right side of the road as Cancellara tried the left, only to come up that little bit short as Cav’s leadout man turned into a leading man.
“I’m not sure what I’ll say to Cav’. We’ll go for dinner and celebrate,” said Goss.
And Cav’? It’s all good, he said.
“For us it was perfect. We won, you know? Gossy was there; he got over in the front of Le Mánie and he’s incredible. He was alone for the whole thing. He works best like that, but to win San Remo when you’re on your own at the front, that’s pretty difficult. It’s an incredible ride. I’m so, so happy for him.”
“I was on the wrong side of the crash on Le Mànie. I was a little bit off the back of the bunch, but we came back fine. There was a crash halfway down the Le Mànie and it just split the peloton. A group went away. We had Gossy there and he won, so it’s all good.”
Online editor at large Patrick O’Grady contributed to this report.