Mark Cavendish believes victory in the Milan-San Remo classic yesterday proved he is "a great rider".
The 23-year-old, who won four Tour de France stages last July, made a surge in the final metres of the 298-kilometre (186-mile), one-day classic to hunt down Heinrich Haussler and secure victory by centimetres. Cavendish had to wait several minutes for the result to be confirmed, but was already celebrating with his Team Columbia-Highroad team-mates.
"When you win sprints you prove you're a great sprinter but when you win a great one-day race like Milan-San Remo you've proved you're a great rider," Cavendish said. "I wanted to prove I'm a great rider and that's what I did."
The Manxman's rivals had questioned whether the Briton would make it over the Cipressa and Poggio climbs but George Hincapie and Thomas Lovkvist saw their team-mate into the final straight. Cavendish then overturned a 10-metre gap down the final 200m to pip Haussler (Cervelo TestTeam) on the line and become the second British winner behind 1964 winner Tom Simpson and the third youngest in the prestigious race's history.
"It is my first Monument [a one-day classic] I have ever ridden," he added. "I took a lot of pleasure by winning it when a lot of people had written me off."
Lance Armstrong (Astana), who was making his return to European racing, was among those trailing in Cavendish's wake, finishing 125th. Brits Roger Hammond (Cervelo TestTeam), Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream) and Jeremy Hunt (Cervelo TestTeam) were 92nd, 108th, and 133rd, respectively, while Ian Stannard (ISD) did not finish.
Cavendish paid tribute to the Team Columbia-Highroad sprint consultant Erik Zabel, a four-times Milan-San Remo winner and winner of the Tour de France's green points jersey on six occasions. "Without his help I wouldn't have won," Cavendish said. "We did the reconnaissance twice and I knew exactly where I had to be at what time and knew exactly how hard I could go and when."
Cavendish now travels to Poland for Wednesday's track cycling world championships, despite suggesting his track days were behind him after failing to gain a medal at the Beijing Olympics.