Though the reasons varied, pre-race favorites Mark Cavendish, Philippe Gilbert, Heinrich Haussler and Tom Boonen were among the big losers at Milan-San Remo Saturday, each man unable to contest the final sprint.
Cavendish, the San Remo winner in 2009, was dropped on the climb of Le Mànie with nearly 100km to go and never regained contact with the front of the race. Several of Cav’s Sky teammates gathered around the world champ and drove the chase, managing to bring their second chase group up to the first, but they were unable to catch the main peloton led by BMC Racing and Omega Pharma-Quick Step. With 50km remaining, Cavendish threw in the towel, patted his teammates on the shoulders and called off the chase. He did not finish the race, opting to ride in with a small group along a coastal road that bypasses the Poggio climb.
Cavendish did not speak to the press following the race, but wingman Bernhard Eisel, who dropped back to pace him on the climb, commented in a Team Sky release.
“Mark just didn’t have it today, it’s as simple as that,” said Eisel. “He was going well in Tirreno, but seemed to be lacking some horsepower out there today. It’s a shame because he really wanted to win this and he’s disappointed, for sure.”
The next pre-race favorites to lose hope of winning were Gilbert and Haussler. The Belgian national champion was caught up in a crash as the lead group crested the Cipressa with just over 22km remaining. Though the BMC Racing star wasn’t badly hurt, the time lost untangling his bike and getting back on the road — just as the finale was heating up — proved too much for last year’s third-place finisher.
“Without the crash, I do not know what would have happened,” Gilbert said. I was in good condition, the team was riding well and I was waiting to try something on the Poggio. We rode easy up the Cipressa and a rider went down who was taking too many risks. I was afraid I would hit one of the cars. I fell on my back and some riders hit me, but it doesn’t appear I am seriously injured. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow, but I should be ok for the Belgian classics.”
Haussler, the runner up to Cavendish in 2009, was behind the crash, and though he didn’t hit the ground, he lost contact with the front group.
“I was caught behind that crash on the top of the Cipressa when Gilbert went down,” Haussler said. “I didn’t crash but I got caught behind it. I was too far back. Then it was all stretched out in a long line. There were some gaps opening up and it just split. At that point, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. I’m not disappointed, I am just angry. I am happy with my legs and how I feel — look at me, I am not even f—ked after 300km. That’s the bad thing, just bad positioning on the Cipressa. I shouldn’t have been behind that. I am not saying I am back; if I was back, I would have been up there.”
A crash on the Poggio descent ended Boonen’s chances. The Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider, who has looked every bit as strong this spring as during the 2009 campaign when he won the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, rode in the second chase group on the approach to the finish line after being caught up in a crash high on the tricky descent to San Remo. The Belgian classics specialist was unable to contest the group sprint, finishing 22nd.
“I had really good legs, maybe the best legs ever in Milano-San Remo,” Boonen said. “It was always under control and the team did a really good job for me. They kept me in the first 10-to-15 positions in all the important moments of the race. On the Poggio I was seventh or eighth when we took the corner to go downhill. I was really good, the team was with me, and we were in good position and ready to fight for victory. Then, in the first part of the downhill a rider crashed, and I was just behind him. I had to brake, and lost 100 meters. Because of that it was impossible to come back.”
Boonen’s lead-out man Matteo Trentin, a late addition to the team after Sylvain Chavanel scratched mid-week, made the front group but crashed hard in the final left-hand turn, and did not finish the race.
“I was there all the day in the front,” Trentin said. “I felt very good, I was near Tom and our tactics went perfectly. We were together at the top of the Poggio as we planned, but in the downhill a rider crashed in front of Tom. I stayed in the front waiting for Tom, but he didn’t come, so I tried to do my sprint. However [in the final turn] a rider touched my wheel and I crashed. It was really disappointing. For a young guy like me, it’s a dream to be there and sprint for the biggest race in Italy, and for my team. But there’s nothing I can do. The only thing we can do is try to always be in the front and see if one day the victory is realized.”