Sanremo Remembered: Saturday without Milan-Sanremo – Who would have thought it was possible? But here we are with a pandemic virus and the world is turned upside down, to put it mildly. Back in 2009 ‘The PEZ’ crew was out in force for La Classicissima, here is Ed Hood’s report of the day.
Matt has chosen the site of the biggest street market in Milano for his hotel. Martin weaves the Fiat through the stall holders and there’s our boy; it’s 07.05, we’re not too late. Bar Castello, cappuccino, pastries and Stefano Barzaghi of Barza Design, the man who does the trick paint jobs for the pros.
PEZ Sez: This race marks the biggest onslaught of PEZ-Crew ever assigned to a one day event. Ed, Martin, Ale, and Matt were all on hand at the start, while Ed, Martin and Ale followed the race to San Remo via different routes.
Today we must look out for Daniele Bennati’s Liquigas Cannondale with it’s “Pantera” (Benna’s nickname) spray job and Luca Paolini’s saddle on his Acqua e Sapone De Rosa. Ale arrives as per the plan, 07.50 and immediately organises a PEZ photo opportunity outside the Castello; what a pro.
It’s bright but crisp on this spring morning. Work time: there’s the Rabobank Giants, lovely and that electronic Shimano gets neater every year.
Garmin’s Tirreno stage winner, Tyler Farrar looks fresh; “we’re lucky with the weather; it’s not for me today, Julian Dean is our man, my job is to look after him as much as possible until at least the Cipressa – if I’m still there after that, we’ll see how it goes.”
There’s ‘Pantera’s’ Cannondale, nice, but Stefano is on hand to lament that; “we need the sunshine to see the metal flake in the black paint,” we console him that even in the shadow of the Liquigas bus it still looks pretty damn cool.
Hot Team of the minute – Diquigiovanni’s DS, Gianni Savio strides into view, dapper as ever; “Rebellin is our man today, but we have Scarponi and Ginanni too,” I ask about quick but erratic sprinter Gavazzi; “he was not at his best in Tirreno, hopefully we will see him at his fastest again, later in the season.”
And there’s Rebellin’s Guerciotti, he’s a small guy and I’m not sure about those ‘turned up’ bars.
What we didn’t realise about Stefano’s saddle spray job on Paolini’s De Rosa is that it’s straight onto rigid carbon – it’s just a good job this isn’t a long race. Incidentally, Paolini has twice made the podium here and if he’s on a good day, could do so again.
Columbia, and my old buddy from the sixes, Aldis; “Cavendish?” I ask. He rolls his eyes; before he has time to explain, a colleague intervenes and they go back to talking feeding bottles.
Erik Zabel is with Columbia, he looks lean and fit; he’s ‘sprint coach’ – I wonder if he warns the lads about the danger of premature victory salutes?
Love Lance or hate him, he draws the crowds, there are more fans around the Astana bus than even the Italian squadra’s vehicles.
I grab Astana DS, Dirk Demol; “Lance feels good, it’s not his favourite race, don’t expect a result but he wanted to ride because it’s such a long race and an important part of his build up.”
Martin spots Wessel van Keuk, one of Cor Vos’s photo guys and a chum of ours from the Tour – he’s looking tanned from all those early season races in exotic places.
Matt is hard at work over at F des J posing Wez Sulzberger for an ‘arty’ shot – if I get them in the view finder at all, then I’m happy!
The Katusha bus and we’re impressed by the drop from Pozzato’s saddle to his huge stem – that’s one serious position.
There’s heat in the sun as we head over to the ISD bus to see if we can get a minute with Dario Cioni or Ian Stannard but DS Luca Scinto has forgotten that he speaks a little English – we were chatting to him at the Giro; he was a ‘civilian’ that day, though. Marc Sergeant the Lotto boss is always a man for a sensible quote; “Philippe (Gilbert) is much better. He has been doing some good training, but we also have Greg Van Avermaet going well, this is only his second time in the race but Greg and Philippe were training over the Capi this week, so he has ridden the finale three or four times now. I expect a group of 10 to 20 to contest the sprint, no more than that.”
Over at Astana, Lance-mania breaks out, but we’re talking to Columbia’s George Hincapie; “a long way for Mark? This is the 14th time I’ve ridden; and it’s difficult and a long way for me – never mind Mark! It’s his first time of riding it so we don’t expect too much; if it’s not his day then it’s down to me and Thomas Lovkvist.”
Cav appears, “what about the distance, Mark?” “It’s a long way!” – he’s very nervous and I’ve learned when to back off; “good luck, Mark,” good nerves or bad nerves? – it’ll take us seven hours to find out.
I say ‘hello’ to Bjarne Riis, the sun has relaxed him, Stuey is their man and crash victim Schleck is on the mend.
We ask Quick-Step’s Allan Davis if he’s back in shape after his post Tour Down Under sickness; “I had a bit of a rest then I rode Tirreno and was surprised by how well I was going. It’s all for Tom today but this is the strongest team I’ve ever been in and we have a lot of options. I have good condition, I’ve been second here before, so I’m confident.”
We caught Barloworld DS Claudio Corti without a fag in his hand – unusual. “It’s a difficult race and there’s not too much in the way of tactics – stay at the front. It’s a big race but not for us, Hunter could be up there, but he’s not one of the very best sprinters in the peloton.”
Robbie Hunter couldn’t stay on terms with the young guns today.
“Liquigas will drive very hard on the Capi to try to dislodge the other sprinters – Robert, McEwen, Cavendish. . . Bennati is my favourite; Petacchi is very focussed, but I think Bennati is very relaxed.”
It was wearing-on for roll out time and as I threw myself into the stream of riders pedalling to the start, to get a few words with Dario Cioni, his ISD team mate Ian Stannard advised me that I was a – well, best not say! Dario tells us; “it’s not a race to suit me, but it’s a big race for the team.”
Lance appears and the photographers jog, sprint, run, hop alongside to get “the” shot.
As the tail end of the convoy disappears, the barrier stripping crews are at work already. On the PA U2 tell us that, “The streets have no name,” that’s not right, it’s Lungomare Italo Calvino. A final sound bite from Scott Sunderland “Haussler”. Dump Matt at the station – his job will be done and posted before we reach the coast – and we’re off on phase two of the mission – 300 kilometres away.
Martin battles the Milano ring road and finally gets to the A7 Genova. Two hours in and Alй is at Pontecurone; “it’s together but there’s a group trying to make the break.” As Martin eases the Fiat down towards Genoa, Ale sends an SMS; ‘Big break away in Ovada. More than ten ahead.’ The Ligurian Sea – it’s blue alright we see it, then we don’t, as the autostrada dives in and out of one tunnel after another.
It’s gone two when we reach Poggio; just missing the road closure. The clans are gathering; hundreds of club cyclists, locals who enjoy the spectacle each year, fans, police and a little accordion band – courtesy prevents me from commenting on the music.
Ale tells us that the break is finished and only one rider remains clear on La Manie. We’re live on TV now, in the bar at the top of the Poggio – 50K to go, there’s a break away – 1:55 clear – but we have time to check the Gazzetta.
“Una corsa infinita: 298 km” they head their guide up.
Petacchi has 5 stars, Bennati, Pozzato, Boonen and Rebellin 4; our tip, Haussler is on 2 and Cav has just one. They’ve also canvassed previous winners; Gimondi, Bugno and Cipollini say Petacchi; Moser says Bennati and Zabel says Pozzato.
Inside 40K and the break is down to 1:15 as Acqua e Sapone drive – Garzelli? Paolini?
The bar is quieter than it was when I ’embedded’ here, two years ago; the clientele get restless as the TV goes to news just as the three break survivors approach the Cipressa. Just in time and we’re back live, it’s over for the break as Scarponi drives the train up the Cipressa – all the way! Coast road again and it’s split – Cav’s in the front half – wow!
I know the drill here; watch on TV until the foot of the Poggio, rush out, watch the leaders then rush back in for the finalé.
It’s frantic as they hurtle past the bar, I’m snapping away, so I can’t really identify riders, is that Pozzato leading? – the leaders are past, no one is getting back. Back in to the bar.
It’s stretched on the descent, but not split, it’ll ‘gel’ on the run in – there’s an extra kilometre of flat with the new finish.
Nibali leads for Bennati, it’s crazy fast; Haussler and Hushovd bump and barge through. Last K and the clock says 6:42; last year Cancellara won in 7:14 on the same course, did someone say, “fast?” Bernucci charges for Ale Jet but Hincapie launches early for Cav. Now it’s Haussler, a huge gap from way out – surely it’s won? Cavendish counters, but he’s way back, even though the Manx man is making ground with every rev, surely it’s too much of a gap? Haussler’s boyish face is racked with pain as he lunges, Cav lunges – his arms go up. Incredible! But the bar goes quiet; ‘aahhhh, Cavendeesh’ they sigh. It’s taken 45 years for a British rider to equal Tom Simpson’s win in the Primavera. All the experts, all the pundits said Cavendish wouldn’t do it – but now I realise that those were good nerves he had before the start; very good nerves.
Race Day: 16:00h local time – And the wi-fi in the press centre is down and we have a deadline, but the hire car has to go back.
OK, bail out, go dump the car, come back and send the pics. We gas it up, find Avis and begin the route march back to the Stampa. I see a guy, a big, handsome guy in a suit, ambling along the street with his wife and friends. “Martin! Do you know who that is? It’s Eddy, Eddy Merckx!” His wife smiles, she’s seen it before, he poses for the pictures, we shake hands, he waves and leaves us.
“Eddy!” I shout, “you were number one!”
He turns, smiles, spins a hand in the air, hurries a little, catches up with his companions and cuddles his wife. Wi-fi hassle? Who cares?