Mark Cavendish talks through the finale of Sunday's Milan-San Remo, run in cold temperatures and pouring rain

Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) lost the Milan-San Remo sprint and perhaps his last chance to win the race again. He placed fifth yesterday on the Italian Riviera behind winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha).

“I started to sprint and my legs just stopped,” Cavendish told journalists including Cycling Weekly. “I sat down, thought maybe I could go, but they didn’t go any more. Kristoff came back so fast. I couldn’t even have got second.”

Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) took second place and Ben Swift (Sky) third in the sprint. It could have been Milan-San Remo’s last big sprint as organiser RCS Sport wants to include a five-kilometre climb to Pompeiana next year. It already wanted to add it in this year but a landslide and bad road conditions forced it to take its sprinter-friendly route. Race director Mauro Vegni promised Pompeiana would be back on the menu, ahead of the Poggio climb, for 2015.

Cavendish appeared to be on his way to taking his second title and following up his win in his 2009 debut appearance. However, the cold temperatures, from 5 to 15°C, and rain along the 294-kilometre course from Milan to San Remo zapped his strength.

“I’m tired. It was so cold. I was really cold,” Cavendish said at the team bus.

“It was hard to even communicate. I was freezing. The back of my neck hurt from riding in the cold. You could look around and see that nobody was talking or communicating. It was so cold.”

Despite the rain and wind, the Belgian team’s management could see Cavendish was ready to sprint. Around 40 kilometres from San Remo, Sport and Development Manager Rolf Aldag said that the team decided to work for him instead of Zdenek Stybar or Strade Bianche winner Michal Kwiatkowski.

“We saw he could hold on with the group over the Capo Berta. He was sure he could do it [otherwise] he would’ve told the guys if he couldn’t get over the Cipressa,” said Aldag.

“Cav surprised a lot of people. It’s about his mental strength. If he wants to do something that means that you probably have to kill him before he doesn’t get there.”

Cavendish held on with the help of Stybar and Jan Bakelants over the Cipressa and Poggio climbs. He followed the sprint of Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) but his legs failed him as he neared the finish line and his second title.

“If I could come up with something that would’ve made for a better result, I’d be disappointed,” Cavendish explained. “There’s nothing I could’ve done differently.”

He travels north to race Ghent-Wevelgem and Scheldeprijs next. He may never return to Italy to participate in its big spring classic with the changes planned for 2015.