We’re thinking Fabian Cancellara has a new nickname: Towtruck. Not as exciting as Spartacus, but perhaps more accurate given the string of second places where the Swiss star tows the winner to the finish line.
The TV announcer called it perfect: Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) was “mugged” by Simon Gerrans (GreenEdge) who took a monumental win in Milan San Remo. Vincenzo Nibali took third but hardly even lifted his head to bother with a sprint.
Near the top of the Poggio, it was the Italian who attacked as scripted, instantly drawing out Gerrans and Cancellara and away they went. They snatched four seconds by the top and then Cancellara led them down the tricky descent into San Remo. The Swiss champ asked for help and received nothing as Oscar Friere made a desperate attempt to catch back and Nibali’s teammate Peter Sagan sat on the Spaniard’s wheel.
Gerrans found himself in a similar situation as Matthew Goss the year before. If he could simply remain calm and force the Swiss time machine to do all the work, the sprint was his. Clever beats strong and the little puncheur knocked out Spartacus — aka Towtruck.
It was a fabulous race under perfect blue skies and for the second year in a row, an Australian wins the first classic. Gerrans takes over for Matthew Goss and if GreenEdge does nothing else this season it’s already a triumph. The huge grin that head man Shayne Bannan gave Gerrans as the media scrum formed said it all: you just guaranteed us a fantastic first year.
“This is unbelievable,” said Gerrans. “By far and above what I could have hoped for to win one of the movements of cycling.” He played the race to perfection and continued with the red hot form he’s carried since winning the Tour Down Under. Director sportif Matt White is thrilled and enjoyed some revenge after getting kicked out of Garmin in the Trent Lowe fiasco. Garmin’s best finish: Heinrich Haussler at a distant 68th. (He was a dark horse and stayed dark to the end.)
Gerrans is a popular winner and it’s easy to see why: he’s modest, hard working, aggressive and confident. He also has the infectious smile of a small seven year boy who’s just won his first race in his Melbourne neighborhood. When Gerrans smiles, all cycling fans are reminded of the simple, pure joy of riding a bike fast.
For Cancellara, it was a cruel replay of last year’s race — as he said at the finish, it wasn’t the birthday present he had in mind. Still, he gave it his all on the Poggio and when he hit the gas Nibali and Gerrans both turned themselves inside out to stick on his wheel. For the rest of the favorites, it was race over.
“I took the risk. Without risking, you don’t get anything,” said Cancellara. “I made in my mind do do this on the Poggio. I said to myself, all in. I opened the sprint a bit early. You go full gas and risk. Everything went the way we wanted except the win.”
Those words echoed what Chris Horner said just a week ago at the conclusion of Tirreno-Adriatico. The American insisted he had no regrets losing the overall victory in the final time trial to Nibale because the team has ridden “a brilliant race.” Same goes for RadioShack Nissan Trek in San Remo and same result: second place.
There is no shame in that and once again despite the tremendous pressure and marking that comes with being a superstar, Cancellara delivered an inspired performance. However, Twisted Spoke predicts this will be the last time you’ll see Cancellara tow anyone to the finish line. He’s fed up and when he crossed the line in San Remo, he didn’t give Gerrans a congratulatory pat on the back or even give him it look. The man was disgusted and it won’t happen again. He’ll simply say screw you and let the bunch catch up.
The big losers on the day were the riders from BMC Racing — while they did their work in the race, disaster hit near the crest of the Cipressa when Gilbert — who had been looking strong — went down hard in a tangle of riders. He took a few moments to remount and the race was full gas — his day was done, see you in April.
George Hincapie pulled Alessandro Ballan, the team’s option number four, up to the front at the base of the Poggio but the Italian would only manage eight place. The crash in the final sprint took out Greg Van Avermaet who now has full body pain to go with the heel blister. All in all, a shit day.
Oscar Friere (Katusha) proved once again that he can never be counted out of Milan San Remo no matter how old he might be. At age 36, he still rode a smart, tactical race and would likely have made the podium if he’d be able — or gotten enough help — to close down Cancellara, Gerrans and Nibali on the run-in to town. So close, so very far away and win number four was not in the cards.
Mark Cavendish proved two years ago he could handle the Cipressa and Poggio but today he had nothing in the tank. He struggled and fell back on La Manie. No rainbow in San Remo. Sky’s other star Edvald Boasson Hagen was essentially a non factor at 25th. There is no doubting Boasson Hagen’s talent but like Tyler Farrah, we often wonder if he has the mean edge required to finish the job.
Other than Simon Gerrans, Twisted Spoke was impressed with none other than the much maligned at laughed at Filippo Pozzato. The Italian took a superb 6th place today in MSR. The man with a full length back tattoo that reads Only God Can Judge Me is an easy target for derision but you have to respect his toughness and commitment this season.
After two disastrous years at Katusha, he took several steps back and signed with the Italian Farnese Vini Selle Italia squad. He got back to the hard work and was building steady form until he broke his collarbone in stage 5 of the Tour of Qatar. Pozzato refused to toss out his chanes in the Spring classics and instead got back back on the trainer and despite the dangers of another crash, rode the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Today in La Primavera he rode a strong and aggressive race. We’re pulling for Pozzato to return to the top ranks in April.
One thing is for sure — Fabian Cancellara is one angry man after yet another second place. We expect a violent and nasty Spartacus on the cobblestones of Roubaix and Flanders. This time, when he puts the hammer down, we don’t expect anyone to hold that wheel.