Milan-San Remo. The sprinter disguised as climber.
Fresh faced, 23 year old, Mark Cavendish, riding this first Milan San Remo, certainly fooled the big boys. They never thought he’d make it over the climbs and be there at the finish. Too young, too inexperienced, too un-Italian to win La Primavera. He carefully downplayed his own chances and sand-bagged the so-called favorites. “Ohh, I’m just riding for training, just getting my toes wet, maybe in 5 years I’ll have a shot.” While all the time he was training like mad and sucking up every word of invaluable advice from Erik Zabel. Mark went over the mountains and then it really was all over.
You can just imagine the growing shock and fear as guys like Pozzato and Rebellin and Boonen looked around after every climb. They reach the top of the Passo del Turchino. What? The kid’s still here? Then La Maine and they look back and there’s that white and yellow Columbia jersey and no, it’s not George Hincapie. Those riders were starting to get a bad, bad feeling about Cavendish. They were probably looking at each other, shugging shoulders, rolling their eyeballs in disbelief. Was he eating some new kind of energy bar? Where did he get those climber legs? You just don’t win MSR your first time. It goes against history and tradition; it’s just plain not done. Like dumping chipoltle salsa on your pasta, like painting a Ferrari pink or wearing an Armani jacket with rubber galoshes.
And damn if he isn’t still there on the Cipressa, like he’s on holiday, taking in the sights, enjoying the climb. By this time, the fear of Cavendish is setting in big time. Surely he’s going to crack on the final climb up the Poggio? Basso and Nibali set a blistering, sprinter-killing pace, then Pozzato and Rebellin kicked it into high gear, pedal to the metal, full gas, hoping to say goodbye Mark, we’ll wave to you from the podium. Just think what was going through their heads on the run into San Remo. Edit out all the Italian obscenities and it’s something like this: crap, I rode 298k just so some 23 year old punk from the isle of Man can blast by me and steal the trophy?
Yes, that would be Mark Cavendish, billy goat sprinter.