What were you doing in March 2011? Remember staying up late on the night of the 19th? Remember wondering who might win Milan-San Remo? Remember sitting there and seeing a Tasmanian go from good to better… to first?

It happens each year and it’s impossible to ignore. When the mornings stay darker longer in Australia and the end of daylight savings is just around the corner, there’s that inevitable anticipation that builds up and concludes with a long night in front of the TV until the early hours of a Sunday morning.

Milan-San Remo weekend is almost upon us.

The viewing options in Australia have improved considerably but perhaps it’s the recall of knowing just how awkward it once was to watch this Classic from the other side of the world that makes it even more compelling. For years it was delivered in Italian. We watched RAI TV via satellite and didn’t care that we didn’t understand all that was being said: the images told the story and the names are the same in any language.

My relationship with Milan-San Remo dates back over 25 years. Somehow, I’ve watched every edition since 1993 when Maurizio Fondriest took the title. And if I cast my eye back over the honour roll, it’s easy to remember why it became so frustrating for an Australian to watch this race.

It’s the last big race that’s takes place in Europe when it’s still Australian Summer Time and so the finish is closer to 3.00am in Sydney than 1.00am as it often is by the time the other Classics (and Grand Tours) are broadcast.

You sit up, you wait, you allow yourself to believe that an Australian may win… and then go to bed a little disappointed.

“Zabel. Again.” Been there. Said that.

“Freire… Again.” Etc.

It’s not that we don’t appreciate the win by others, but it did take a long time before an Australian got up for a victory.

Remember 2009? Damn, that was close. Didn’t see it? Well, find the replay. It’s worth it. I’ve watched that sprint over 50 times and each time, I convince myself that Heinrich could still hold on for the win. (Spoiler alert: he doesn’t. Cavendish catches him right on the line each time.)

But then there was 2011. Ah yes, what a year that was. Okay, by the end of the season, Cavendish did it again: he spoiled an Australian effort and relegated a formidable rider to the runner-up position. That was the 2011 worlds when ‘Cav’ beat ‘Gossie’ in the race for the rainbow jersey. Before that, however, came the moment I’d long waited for.

In March 2011 it happened: an Australian won Milan-San Remo. Matt Goss, ahead of Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert. The perfect sprint. A great result. Reason to smile. Even all these years later, the photo of the victory salute still makes me grin.

And so, on this eve of the 2018 edition of Milan-San Remo, let’s take a flashback to the days after The Win by Goss. Below is the interview I did with him over the phone on the Monday after the Saturday of his success.

 

– By Rob Arnold

 

(But first, the results to remind you of the outcome.)

 

* * * * *

 

Milan-San Remo 2011
1 Matt Goss (AUS) THR
298.0km in 6:51:10 (43.49km/h)
2 Fabian Cancellara (SUI) LEO @ st
3 Philippe Gilbert (BEL) OLO st
4 Alessandro Ballan (ITA) BMC st
5 Filippo Pozzato (ITA) KAT st
6 Michele Scarponi (ITA) LAM st
7 Yoann Offredo (FRA) FDJ st
8 Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) LIQ 0:03
9 Greg van Avermaet (BEL) BMC 0:10
10 Stuart O’Grady (AUS) LEO 0:12

 

Some are still racing. Some are no longer with us. Gossie stopped racing a few years back but his legacy remains. Nothing will ever take away the fact that he is the first Australian to win ‘La Primavera’, the first cycling’s Monuments, the great Italian Classic, the longest race… and all the other titles we know it by.

Matt Goss, champion of Milan-San Remo 2011. Here’s RIDE’s interview with him about that special ride…

Fabian Cancellara, Matt Goss and Philippe Gilbert listen to the Australian national anthem (above).

Photo: Graham Watson

It’s all about timing and picking the right moves to follow. Matt Goss got everything right in San Remo! He also happens to be fast and strong enough to beat the likes of Fabian, Philippe and Alessandro.
This was a coming-of-age moment for Australian cycling: a classic win in a Monument of the sport.

 

RIDE: Talking to [HTC-Colombia directeur sportif] Allan Peiper about the sprint, we agreed that it was one of the best sequences in cycling of the year. Can you remember the finish? How does it appear in your mind?

Matt Goss: “Yeah, I’ve got a fairly good idea of everything that happened – how it unfolded and what the final few kilometres were like. I’ve got a good recollection of the finale as I was so focused on what I had to do and calculating what I thought was going to happen.

“I had to keep it together with those seven or eight guys until the final few hundred metres. I knew that, if I could do that, I’d have a really good shot at getting the win.

“I had to chase Fabian with just under two kilometres to go and then I knew straight away that either Gilbert or Pozzato was going to go, so I tried to cover them as well. I got onto the wheel of Pozzato and Ballan and let them do the chasing with about one-and-a-half kilometres to go and they got it all back together just in time for the finish.”

 

If Gilbert hadn’t attacked on the Poggio and again in town, and then done the sprint, do you think he would have won it? 

“He was impressive but I was still confident that I could beat him in a sprint even if he didn’t go to the front once all day. His attack on the Poggio was pretty good but I never felt like I was in serious trouble at any time.

“I was able to ride across to the front group 500 metres from the top of the Poggio and, once I did that, I knew I had a pretty good chance.

“There was not really anyone in that lead group that worried me too much if it came to a sprint.”

Goss and Cavendish: team-mates in 2011. Both have won Milan-San Remo; the Australian in 2011, the Manxman in 2009.

Photo: Yuzuru Sunada

There was one moment when you followed a move and then swung off to the right of the road in the finale, until the actual finish, that was the only time we saw you at the front…

“That sounds about right. I had to chase down Fabian and also reacted to Gilbert but that’s why I swung off and let someone else go to the front to do something.

“I wanted to retreat a little and keep an eye on everyone for the finish and cover any other moves if I had to. On the descent of the Poggio I was never further back than third or fourth wheel. I always made sure I was near the front but not on the front.”

 

What was it like on the descent of the Poggio? Cancellara essentially won the race on that stretch of road in 2008. Is that the best descending you do – or are you taking some caution?

“We were pretty much full gas going down there. It was not far down that Marco Marcato crashed on one of the corners – and he was just behind me. That slowed Alessandro Ballan down but all of us were on the limit.

“The tyres were sliding and jolting across the road. At one point, the front end of my bike started to go out and make me uncomfortable but it gripped just in time and I held it up. But we were going hard!

The moment of elation… job one, race won.

It’s a dream scenario for your team’s bike supplier. You must be McLaren’s pin-up boy. The timing of it is unbelievably good… Have they offered you a new car to thank you?

“I’m not holding my breath for something like that. I don’t really think that they’ll be handing out too many of their cars – not even for a Milan-San Remo win. But I guess Specialized would be pretty happy and McLaren should be pleased too. They couldn’t have hoped for a better start really.

“It’s a nice bike. It’s a lot more responsive than the SL3 and it descends a little bit better. It’s fast and very aerodynamic and I really like the angles on it. It makes me more comfortable and powerful because of the position you can get into.

“It’s not contrived: that’s how it is. It’s not usually a good thing to get a new bike only a few days before a race never having used it before. But immediately, I felt very comfortable on it.”

 

How’s the reaction been, do you now feel like the most sought after man? Do people at home appreciate what you’ve done?

“I’ve certainly been talking to people a lot more than I did before the win. I had three interviews, at least, every night after the race for over a week. Every morning there was someone wanting to get me live on the radio… it’s been quite flat out to be honest. Every WorldTour race I’ve contested [until the Tour of Flanders], I’ve either taken out a stage or won the race.

“It’s all been going fairly well. I’m succeeding in every race I’ve done this year so I can’t really complain.”

 

And all this success at the start of the year leads you to become the world’s number-one rider. How cool is that?

“It’s a great honour. There have been so many big-name riders who have done that but there’s a long way to go before the end of the season. At the moment I’m at the top but hopefully I can be consistent and keep picking up points through the season and still be there at the end of the year.”

 

– Interview by Rob Arnold