Matt Goss was still realising the significance of his Milan-San Remo victory over breakfast at his Monaco home yesterday.
The 24-year-old convincingly won the 298km race in Italy on Saturday to take out the first one-day monument of the season.
Goss bested 2008 victor and four-time time trial world champion Fabian Cancellara as well as Philippe Gilbert in what was just his second attempt at the race in as many years.
“To be honest I just sat down on the edge of the fence there trying to take in the last five minutes of what had just happened,” Goss told Cycling Central of his reaction after the finish.
“There was a lot of emotion there I guess.
“Last night, we had a really big dinner with 20 or 30 really good friends we’ve got here and had a nice little celebration.”
Goss became the first Australian to win La Primavera, in its 102nd year, and joined Phil Anderson, Stuart O’Grady and Cadel Evans as Australians that have won a Spring Classic.
O’Grady was the next best-placed Aussie, 12 seconds behind Goss, in 10th on Saturday.
“I read L’Equipe this morning while I was having some breakfast and it said that me and O’Grady are the only Australians to win a monument in cycling,” Goss said.
“Then, I started to realise how big it really was.”
Goss’s biggest career win, up until the weekend, had been his stage nine victory at last year’s Giro d’Italia.
Happy with the win but unhappy it came a third of the way through the 2010 season, he decided to begin training earlier than usual - in December - to find the same winning form a month or two earlier for the 2011 Classics.
Goss entered Milan San-Remo on the back of seven stage wins with one a piece and stint in the leader’s jersey at the Tour Down Under (January), Tour of Oman (February) and Paris-Nice (March).
But despite the lead-up, the HTC-Highroad sprinter was as humble post-race as we was pre-race about his Classics potential and the preparation and commitment that went into Saturday's achievement.
“This is something I’ve dreamt of winning but I didn’t except it to happen now,” he said.
“To win something this big, at my age, this is something I thought would happen in four or five years. This year, I thought, was going to be another step toward that but to get the win already is unthinkable.”
Goss and Mark Cavendish, who won the prestigious race in 2009, entered the 2011 edition as HTC team leaders.
Cavendish did not make the definitive split 90km from the finish allowing Goss to ride for himself albeit without the support of teammates who also did not make the 44-strong group.
The split scattered further on the final Poggio climb some 10km from the finish line but Goss, feeling strong, bridged across to the leaders at the summit.
An eight-man bunch would eventually contest the race and Goss – as the only sprinter amongst the group including Gilbert, Cancellara, Alessandro Ballan, Vincenzo Nibali, Filippo Pozzato, Michele Scarponi and Yoann Offredo – marked every attack to the finish.
“I knew that’s what I had to do, like I said in interviews before, there were so many attacking riders, Gilbert, Pozzato, Cancellara, Ballan, none of those guys, I don’t think, would have wanted it to come to a sprint,” Goss said.
“As soon as (Cancellara) attacked I thought, we can’t give him more than 10m because we won’t catch him again, so I covered him straight away. Then Gilbert went again and I tried to cover that, but in the end it was someone else and I just tucked in on the wheel. I was just thinking, ‘I have to keep this together to the final point where I can try and win the sprint.”
Scarponi, as the finish loomed into view, was the first to move in the home straight and was quickly followed by Gilbert with Goss in third wheel.
“Five hundred metres, to go 600m to go, there was a corner there where we got back to Gilbert in the front of the group,” he said.
“I was pretty confident that another attack wouldn’t be able to go from there to the finish line, it was too close. From that point, that’s where I really thought I could win here today.”
Goss kicked running over his rivals and Cancellara, who advanced on the other side of the road in what was an intelligent and gutsy race.
“I guess when you can see the finish line at Milan-San Remo you get a bit of extra power. It was 300km but I certainly wasn’t thinking about how much it was hurting, at that point, I was thinking about getting across that line first," he said.
Goss hopes to carry his winning form into another one-day race that suits his strengths - Ghent-Wevelgem - on March 27.