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Sean Kelly picks the 2012 spring classics winners

  • By Gerard Cromwell
  • Published Mar. 26, 2012
  • Updated Mar. 27, 2012 at 7:43 PM EDT

Big Swiss backed into a corner; Cav down and out

Although many people will say that Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) threw the race away by riding too hard on the front of the break in the final kilometers, Kelly says he simply had no choice and that Gerrans played his hand perfectly.

“I think Cancellara was always making the calculation, glancing over his shoulder, and knew he had to keep it going or they would have been swallowed up in the last 500 meters,” said Kelly. “For Gerrans, it was a perfect situation because we know Cancellara will always ride and that’s exactly what he did. The way he can ride in the final kilometers… he can hold off a group from behind. He kept it rolling all the time and I think he was hoping that he would be able to take the sprint. If they had another five seconds advantage he could have slowed down a little in the last 500 meters and if you give Cancellara 10 seconds of recovery time before the sprint, he’s so strong that he would be difficult to beat. I think Gerrans did a perfect job. He followed Cancellara. I think he took one turn from the bottom of the Poggio to the finish and that’s the way to do it.”

The fact that world champion Mark Cavendish (Sky) wasn’t involved in the final sprint, having been dropped on an earlier climb, also surprised Kelly, although he has his own theory as to what went wrong.

“I think the reason Cavendish wasn’t good is the way that he finished Tirreno-Adriatico,” said Kelly. “I don’t think he finished the stage on the Monday and didn’t ride the final time trial. So he had Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, four days, waiting for Milan-San Remo and that’s a recipe for disaster. I know myself… you’re staying in a hotel, the pasta is really good and you can eat too much of it and get totally blocked. That can be a problem. It happened in my time as well. You ride Tirreno-Adriatico for a number of days and you have a huge appetite after it. You’re doing very little training because you’re just ticking over, but the food intake, that’s where you can slip up and I think that’s where Cavendish slipped up. He didn’t get it out of his system. It wasn’t because the hill was too steep. It wasn’t because it was too fast. It was just that his legs were blocked.”

Although his best chance of classic victory this year appears to have passed him by, Kelly reckons we could well see the Manx missile win some of the other classics in the future.

“Milan-San Remo suits a rider like Cavendish perfectly,” he said. “San Remo is one where, if you’re a good sprinter and you can get yourself over the climbs in a good position, it’s the one that’s easier to win compared to Flanders and Roubaix. The other ones… well, now the pressure is on because he didn’t get a result. He will be very disappointed and will be trying to make up for it and hopefully we will see him really going for it in Flanders because he is capable of doing it. But you need to get up there, get into the finale and get a bit of experience, know where to position yourself on the climbs, all of that. That’s something you only learn by going out there and doing it. Flanders, it’s one where you need a lot of experience. You have to know the roads so well. He’s not a proven rider in Roubaix, and Flanders, it’s going to be a big one as well.”

The Irishman smiles at mentions of races such as Ghent-Wevelgem, where Cavendish might have redeemed himself, but came up short. “Ghent-Wevelgem is second category,” he said. “For Cavendish, it’s the big ones like San Remo, Flanders, Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, they’re the ones you want to win as world champion, as one of the best riders in the world.”

So who does Kelly see as the rider for the 2012 classics season? He flashes a grin, folds his arms, sits back and says simply, “Cancellara will kick arse in the Tour of Flanders and Roubaix.”

Once more he recalls the final kilometers of Milan-San Remo: “You could see it in San Remo. When you’re in the finale there, doing 60kph… you can get in behind Cancellara, in the slipstream, and it’s like sitting behind a nice-sized car, because he’s a big guy.”

Kelly hunches down, pulls his elbows in as if he is following the big Swiss time trial specialist and then sits up abruptly, throwing his hand in the air as if he’s just been dropped.

“But if he gets you on the cobbles in Roubaix, or in Flanders, there’s very little advantage sitting behind a guy on the cobbles,” he said. “That’s where he will really demonstrate his power. I think he’s on the road again to winning some of those big races. But he’ll have to be careful tactically. Other teams are going to try to make him do a lot of work and that’s the only way they are going to beat him. He needs a strong team. You could see last year in Roubaix, after Arenberg, it came together, there were 60 riders there and then the attacking started.

“Cancellara didn’t have anybody with him capable of going with those attacks. He should have had somebody, at least one rider, capable of going, or two. Get them up the road, leave them there for later and when you need them, call them back. When he needed them behind, there was nobody there either. I think this year he probably has a better team than last year and he’ll definitely need them if teams use that tactic of putting riders up the road in Flanders and Roubaix.”

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