He may have finished dead-last in Tirreno-Adriatico, but come Saturday's
Milan-San Remo, Anthony Tan isn't writing off the chances of a repeat
by the world's fastest sprinter.
He almost got me.
Up until two days ago, having been dropped on every stage of Tirreno-Adriatico bar the last (and in that one he crashed), this week's column was going to be all about how Mark Cavendish would not win Saturday's 'La Classicissima', Milan-San Remo.
"I can't suffer like I used to," he told my cycling colleague Gregor Brown, who I worked with at last year's Giro and Tour, on Wednesday's final stage of Tirreno.
"San Remo is not about climbing, it is about resilience. You don't have to be a climber to win San Remo, you have to be resilient. It's about suffering. And you can't suffer without training. I can't suffer; that's the thing," said Cavendish.
Now, Cav, even though he's had his moments in the past and let fly, has recently been quite astute with the press, and I believe this statement is one example of where he's given Gregor a bit of the ol' run-around.
It is true: because of dental problems, Cavendish's off-season was interrupted, and as a result, completed 2,000 less training kilometres than he rode in the previous European winter. And when he takes to the start line outside Milan's Castello Sforzesco this Saturday for 300-odd kilometres of pain, he will have just 14 days' racing in his legs.
But on that final stage of Tirreno, when the Manxman crashed eight kilometres from the finish in San Benedetto del Tronto, he didn't have to complete the stage; it was on a finishing circuit where he fell, and he could have ridden straight to the team bus if he so desired.
No Ã¢â¬â the fact that he got back up and on his bike to finish the stage Ã¢â¬â simply to end up last on the final classification, almost two hours behind overall winner Stefano Garzelli Ã¢â¬â to me, speaks volumes about his mental fortitude. Or to use words of Cavendish, resilience. Which in a race like San Remo, bears equal importance as one's physical ability.
The two late climbs of the Cipressa and Poggio are rarely decisive in themselves. They come in the final 30km, are not particularly savage in their gradient, and the last Ã¢â¬â which comes 10.7km from the finish line Ã¢â¬â is still some distance away if you're attempting to hold off a raging peloton of sprinters and their workhorses.
So for the sprinter, it is about holding on for these 297 kilometres: coasting as much as possible for the first 250km; suffering, suffering, suffering over the Cipressa and Poggio to stay in the front group while hoping no-one has broken away; holding your nerve on the descent of the Poggio and simultaneously catching a few deep breaths; moving up into position before the finish, hopefully with the aid of one or two team-mates Ã¢â¬â then in the final 150-200 metresÃ¢â¬¦
Bang! Give everything you have left to win one of the most coveted one-day races in cycling.
Contrary to what he said, I have no doubt Cavendish still knows how to suffer like he used to. Without doubt, he probably suffered more in Tirreno-Adriatico than he expected or would have liked. But come Saturday, that will have done him no harm at all.
Last year, he won the final stage of Tirreno, which provided an indication of his form for San Remo, even though many Ã¢â¬â myself included Ã¢â¬â had written him off, saying he was too young to handle such a long race, or, if your name was Tom Boonen, too fat to get over the climbs.
Despite Cav finishing last on GC in Tirreno, I'm not going to make that same mistake again.
As the world's once most flamboyant sprinter Mario Cipollini wrote in his column in La Gazzetta dello Sport this week: "Somebody with this much talent you can never write off."
Especially one so much quicker than the rest when he's 'on', and mentored by a four-time winner of the race.
Australians to race Milan-San Remo: Allan Davis (Astana), Brett Lancaster, Heinrich Haussler (CervÃ©lo), Matthew Wilson (Garmin-Transitions), Matthew Goss, Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia), Simon Clarke (ISD-Neri), Baden Cooke, Stuart O'Grady (Saxo Bank), Mathew Hayman, Chris Sutton (Team Sky)