Cavendish and Milan San Remo – An Air of Inevitability

“I’m not looking forward to Milan San Remo, it’s not really a race for me anymore.”

So says Mark Cavendish, professional cyclist and professional bullshitter. The world’s best sprinter uttered these words in the aftermath of the Tour of Qatar which he won overall along with four stages and the points classification. And he was only there in the first place as a last minute replacement for the injured Tom Boonen.

Cavendish may want all of his rivals to believe that Milan San Remo is not a season goal of his, but the facts tell a different story – that he has never been in better shape at this stage of the season.

He won a race in January for the first time in his career (Stage One of the Tour de San Luis), he has won more races this year than he has won before Milan San Remo during any previous year (six, and counting) and he has just won four stages in a row for the first time ever. In addition, many riders and commentators have noted just how lean he is looking for this stage of the season.


Mark Cavendish (circled) in the final few hundred metres of the Tour of Qatar Stage 6

Mark Cavendish (circled) in the final few hundred metres of the Tour of Qatar Stage 6

Cavendish’s sprint on the final stage of the Tour of Qatar was the most impressive of his four wins. In the picture to the right, Mark Cavendish is circled in the bottom left. He has 35 riders in front of him, with no lead out train. Nineteen seconds after this still frame was taken, he won the stage.

Cavendish is not as adept to riding in the wind as four time Tour of Qatar winner Tom Boonen is. After the first stage of this year’s race, where the a breakaway made it to the finish in typically blustery conditions where the maximum wind speed was over 30km/h, it seemed that overall victory would be beyond the Manxman.

But after the team time trial on Stage Two, where his Omega-Pharma Quick-Step team finished third, the wind in Qatar died down considerably to a much more moderate 17 km/h. Once the wind was no longer such a factor on the race, the overall prize became a formality as Cavendish gobbled up stage wins for fun – with a leadout, without a leadout or sprinting on his own down the opposite side of the road from everyone else, as he did on the final stage.

Below is a graph showing the maximum and average wind speeds for each stage in this year’s Tour of Qatar (red lines). These are plotted against a much windier edition from 2009 (blue lines), where the bunch came home in dribs and drabs every day as Boonen exerted his dominance.


The moderate wind speeds during the second half of the race were reflected in the sizes of the pelotons making it to the finish together each day. For instance, 99 riders arrived at the finish together on Stage Three, on only four occasions in the 12 year history of the race has a bigger bunch contested the finish. These wind speeds made Cavendish’s overall win inevitable.

The wind speeds in Italy come March 17th will be more akin to the 2013 edition of the Tour of Qatar than those of 2009.

PageBreakCavendish has tried this trick before. In 2009, the year he won Milan San Remo when he beat Heinrich Haussler by a matter of millimetres, he made great efforts to convey in his interviews that he should not be considered a contender. The following is from a conversation printed in the March 2009 edition of Cycle Sport magazine:

“Milan San Remo for the next couple of years is going to be like Ghent-Wevelgem in 2008 [he finished 17th] or the Tour in 2007 [best stage placing was ninth, before abandoning on Stage Eight]. I’m going there for the experience. If I get a result, that’s great. If I don’t, I don’t.”

And again in an interview with in the days just before La Primavera:

“Sanremo is one of the most difficult races on the calendar, I am only 23 years old and don’t expect too much.

He admitted his tactic after he had won the race in another interview with Cycle Sport magazine (June 2009) saying that he even went so far as to fake being in trouble during races when the camera was on him:

“People think I can’t climb. Tom Boonen said I couldn’t get over a railway bridge. I wanted them to keep thinking that. I needed them to keep thinking that…In Eroica, I made sure I got dropped with a few team-mates around me, and I made sure it was on TV. I knew people would look at it and say ‘Well, he’s not going to win Milan-San Remo climbing like that.'”

The ploy worked so well that the following year, when he genuinely was on bad form, recovering from dental surgery, nobody believed him when he ruled himself out of contention – he finished the race in 89th.

PageBreak4But four years have passed since he pulled the wool over the peloton’s eyes, have they now forgotten? Four years ago the Irish economy was in the process of completely collapsing as Fianna Fail were busy passing laws which has brought this country to its knees. Today, an opinion poll has been released which declares that Fianna Fail is, once again, the most popular party in the country. A famous Bushism regarding fooling people comes to mind.

Last year, Cavendish did not perform well in Milan San Remo. He missed the split on the climb of La Manie with about 100km to go and eventually abandoned the race as a result. But last year, he was attempting to spread himself very thin in an Olympic year where he was expected to deliver.

This year, there is no Olympics. He may not even be selected for the World Road Race championships due to the hilly nature of the course. If we are to believe Cavendish that he has no plans for Milan San Remo, this leaves the only major goal of his season as the Tour de France, which is nearly five months away. Has he really no ambitions to win another edition of this monument classic? As an Irish mammy would say, ‘sure what else would he be doing’?

Cavendish vs Haussler


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  1. J Dunn - February 19, 2013 @ 10:03 am

    Perhaps the biggest issues Cavendish has to contend with are simply history and the hilly final kilometres of the course. Sprinters don’t win here that often and marked sprinters never do.

    No surprise he’s seriously downplaying his chances because his only hope is to ‘do a 2009’ and ghost in the back door when nobody is looking.

  2. Irish Peloton - February 19, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

    I wouldn’t say marked sprinters never win. Erik Zabel won four times, if he wasn’t being marked by the fourth time then there was something seriously wrong!

    I don’t doubt that it will be extremely difficult for Cavendish, but like I said above, what else would he be doing? He’s never been one to hold much stock in winning stages of relatively minor races. Besides the Tour, the only other realistic goals he could possibly have this year are Milan San Remo and Ghent Wevelgem.

  3. J. Dunn - February 19, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

    Yeah, and we all know what was going on in those achieving days of the late 1990s..!

    Looking at the list of past winners, perhaps I should have said ‘pure sprinters’. Zabel, Goss, Freire and Bettini strike me as more punchy sprinters, very different from Cavendish. MSR is about how well you accelerate up the Poggio, not in the last 200 metres…

    It should suit the new punchy man, then – Sagan.

  4. Janet Mozelewski - February 19, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

    I heard Cav make that statement in Qatar. He seriously was trying to downplay it. Not even discuss it. Which made me think…especially the phrase about it not being a race for him ‘anymore’. That one word grabbed my attention because it was like saying ‘look, I may have won back in the day but I can’t now’. Which is no doubt what he wants people to believe. The course hasn’t changed from back then….so I can’t see why he can’t win it again.

    Of course, another target for Cav which isn’t being mentioned is the Giro. Its a favorite race of his and, particularly after last year’s Ferrari crash, the tour Points Jersey that so far eludes him.
    It is fashionable to write Cav off and talk up Sagan and Griepel. However, Cav was severely restricted of course by Sky in the last TdF or those two worthies may not have had as much success. Anyone who writes Cav off in a race with any kind of probability of a sprint isn’t firing on all cylinders IMO.
    I expect the new rejuvenated and happy Cav to figure strongly in the Sanremo shake-up. The weather could throw a spanner in the S-Works but other than that…GoCav.

  5. austin - February 21, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

    Cillian, I suspect Cav says these things in order to take pressure off himself as much as anything. Perhaps he needs to play down the importance of a one day race for his own psyche, to avoid putting too much emphasis on one classic, meaning anything other than a win will be seen as a ‘failure’.

    He cannot genuinely believe he is fooling his competitors or racing fans, so it must surely be a tactic to avoid having to focus on the target in front of the media, adding pressure that might inhibit him. He seems happier to talk about the green jersey at the Tour as a target, but there he will know there are usually at least half a dozen stages he can contest, so there is ‘always tomorrow’.

  6. Simon - February 21, 2013 @ 4:56 pm

    Cavendish won the green jersey in 2011

  7. Janet Mozelewski - February 21, 2013 @ 6:06 pm

    @Simon. I know that…I meant that having won the points jersey at both the TdF and Vuelta, the Giro was the Grand Tour jersey missing from his collection Was a bit surprised that the article (which I agree with in the main) didn’t mention the Giro when it is always likely to be near the top of Cav’s list of priorities.

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