- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

SAN REMO, ITALY (AP) - Sprint standout Mark Cavendish won the Milan-San Remo cycling classic in his debut Saturday, beating Heinrich Haussler of Germany in a photo finish.

Lance Armstrong, riding the first European race in his comeback from three and a half years of retirement, dropped back and out of contention in an uphill climb shortly before the finish.

The seven-time Tour de France champion finished 125th, 8 minutes, 19 seconds behind Cavendish. Armstrong did not stop to talk with reporters at the finish, but he posted a few comments on his Twitter feed.

“What a race! Fast, crazy, but great,” Armstrong wrote. “My legs felt good. Bad position at start of the Cipressa so my day was done. Good to get in close to 190 miles on the bike too. … Congrats to Cavendish on a spectacular victory.”

Cavendish, who rides for Team Columbia-High Road, covered the 298-kilometer 185-mile course in 6 hours, 42 minutes, 31 seconds. Haussler was second, with the same time, and Cervelo teammate Thor Hushovd of Norway finished third, two seconds behind.

“I really didn’t expect to win. It’s unbelievable,” said Cavendish, who won four stages at the Tour de France last year. “(Teammate George) Hincapie and the entire team helped me on the climbs. I was a bit worried when I saw Haussler take off, but I was able to pass him.”

The 23-year-old is the second British rider to win the grueling race, after Tom Simpson accomplished the feat in 1964. Earlier this week, Cavendish said he would only race for the experience, and go for the win in future years.

Armstrong has raced the Milan-San Remo seven times without a win, his best result 11th in 1996. But it wasn’t a completely wasted day. The American was near the front of the group setting the pace up the 4.2 mile ascent to Le Manie, 62 miles from the finish, leaving behind Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen.

Allan Davis of Australia finished fourth and pre-race favorites Alessandro Petacchi and Daniele Bennati of Italy were fifth and sixth, respectively, each two seconds back.

Australian rider Stuart O’Grady fell in the early stages and withdrew. Belgian standout Tom Boonen also fell, on the Turchino climb 80 miles into the race, but changed bicycles and rejoined the group and finished 15th.

This marked the third race in Armstrong’s comeback, finishing 29th in the Tour Down Under in Australia and seventh in the Tour of California.

Armstrong heads for Spain and the five-day Vuelta of Castilla and Leon, which starts Monday.

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