Mark Cavendish, who in 2009 won Milan-San Remo by a tyre’s width from Heinrich Haussler, says he may have ridden the Italian early season Classic for the last time, and won’t be riding next year’s race. His big target for 2014 will instead be to win the opening stage of the Tour de France in Harrogate to get into the race leader’s yellow jersey.
That Milan San-Remo victory by Cavendish nearly five years ago was the first by a British rider in a Monument since the late Tom Simpson – the only other man from the British Isles to have won the race – triumphed in the Giro di Lombardia in 1965.
But Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider Cavendish has told Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport that a change in the route for 2014 means he will definitely skip next year’s edition, and may never ride it again unless the course returns to the way it was – leaving that 2009 win as his sole victory in the race.
A new ascent, the Pompeiana, 5km long at an average gradient of 5 per cent but reaching 14 per cent at one point, comes between the late climbs of the Cipressa and the Poggio, and could make it all but impossible for pure sprinters such as Cavendish to contest the finale.
Since taking that landmark victory in the 2009 race, Cavendish has made it his big early season target but has come away frustrated each time.
Last year with Sky, he started favourite and had high hopes of winning the race in the rainbow jersey of world champion, only to get dropped on the climb of Le Manie – which from next year, disappears from the route.
In March this year, following a race interrupted by heavy snowfall that necessitated a bus transfer to cut out the Passo del Turchino and Le Manie, Cavendish finished ninth, 14 seconds down on a seven-man front group led across the line by MTN-Qhubeka’s Gerald Ciolek.
Cavendish was speaking at McLaren’s headquarters in Woking – he arrived in a McLaren F1 gifted to him by Specialized owner Mike Sinyard when he won the world championship in Copenhagen in 2011 – where he was taking part in a wind tunnel test arranged by the American bike brand.
Also there were fellow Specialized riders Alberto Contador of Tinkoff-Saxo and Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali, who placed third in Milan-San Remo in 2012 but who believes the new parcours gives him an opportunity to win the race and has even sounded out his team’s bike sponsor about having a frame specially designed for it.
Referring to the revised route, reigning Giro d’Italia champion Nibali said: “San Remo will be played out differently. I need to find the time to go and try out the climb of the Pompeiana. Last year, without the crisis caused by the cold weather, I’d have attacked on the Cipressa. Next year I’d like to try again.”
While Cavendish told La Gazzetta dello Sport that he may ride the Giro d’Italia next May – the opening stage in Belfast is likely to be the closest he’ll ever be to his native Isle of Man while racing in a Grand Tour – his sights are firmly set on taking Stage 1 of the Tour de France when Yorkshire hosts the Grand Départ of the 101st edition in May.
That opening stage starts in Leeds but finishes in his mother’s home town, Harrogate.
Earlier this week, the 28-year-old told BBC Sport he was “super excited” about the race returning to Britain for the first time since the year he made his debut in an event in which he has since racked up 25 stage wins.
“It’s the second time in my career the Tour will be coming to the UK,” he said.
“Last time the crowds were phenomenal, it was my first Tour de France in 2007. But two stages in Yorkshire [in 2014] then one down into London finishing on The Mall, I think it’s going to be incredible.
“The amount of people who came out to watch in 2007 when cycling wasn’t even that big and then you look at more than a million people at the Olympics last year, I’m so excited.
“The pros still talk about London being the best Grand Départ that they’ve had, but I think next year’s going to top that for sure.
“My mum comes from Harrogate, a lot of my family still lives there, I spent many times there as a kid. I know the finish straight, it is going to be a sprint and a chance to wear the yellow jersey.”
It’s something missing from the CV of Cavendish, who this year became the fifth man to win the points competition in all three Grand Tours and who has also worn the leader’s jersey at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España.
“I haven’t yet worn the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, I had the opportunity this year but a crash stopped that, so to be able to that in my mum’s home town, it’s sweet, it will be a big goal, probably the single most important day of the year,” he added.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.