What's Cool In Road Cycling

San Remo: “da Contendas”

Cipo signalled the “rebirth” of Italian cycling last year with his first win at San Remo, and his form this year places him as the favorite again. The riders’ spirits are high, and competition fierce as this signals the “real” start of the season. The Italians absolutely love this race and go even more “casino” than usual for “la primavera”. It’s become a sprinter’s race in recent years, but anything can happen, and here’s who to watch for…

It’s a long race, often described as being easy enough to finish, but fiendishly difficult to win. This year’s course is 294km, but not much will really take place in the first 230km or so, save for the requisite suicide breakaway from those wanting to get themselves noticed. And they will, now that the TV rights row in Europe appears to have been sorted.

The first main point of excitement will be the Turchino Pass, returning to the route this year. It’s no monster at 562m, and it comes too far out of San Remo to make much difference to the result, but traditionalists like it, and who are we to argue? The big stars will be happy to wait for the frantic action that erupts once the riders begin to head up the Capo Berta, the Cipressa and the legendary Poggio. Read our Route Details here.

So, who to look out for? The sprinters have a great chance to win this classic because the few hills included are short, sharp and attacked at pace, so they’re relatively easy to handle.

Mario Cipollini: El Re Leone – How can you not love this guy? He’s got the biggest ego in the bunch, and the biggest “cajones” – because he backs up his mouth with his legs. He’s hot right now, won 3 stages in Murcia, and would love nothing more than to win a second consecutive “primavera” wearing the World Champion’s jersey. 2003 looks like being another sprinters’ parade – it gives them a chance of some glory before the Classics campaign heads north into the colder cycling heartlands of Belgium and Holland.

Apart from Cipo’, the fast finishers to watch will be the phenomenal Filippo Pozzato (Fassa Bortolo) who has scored several big wins already this year, including Tirreno-Adriatico, and his team-mate Alessandro Petacchi who’ll want to ensure he finishes above his upstart colleague.

“Mr Milano-San Remo” himself, Erik Zabel, will be back looking for his 5th win in the event. He’s been close so often already this season that he could snap up a win, if his team is strong enough after their exertions at Paris-Nice. Few other sprinters have his experience, so he’s a strong bet.

Oscar Friere will have a great chance, too, with the Rabobank team devoted to getting him to the finish – something he missed out on at Mapei. Robbie McEwen will lead Lotto-Domo, but just how good is his health and fitness? The Poggio will tell.

Fred Rodrigeuz was 2nd last year – now with Sidermec, he could pull off a result as he knows how to finish.

And could perennial runner-up Davide Rebellin produce the goods? He got a stage at Paris-Nice, but his career really lacks a big win. He’ll have almost a whole team at his disposal (although Marcus Zberg may want to upstage him), so don’t be surprised to see a Gerolsteiner rider noodling off the front early in the race to take the pressure off.

Ruggerio Marzoli (Alessio) snared a stage at Tirreno, and can sprint, as can veteran Jan Svorada (Lampre), and why not stick a few New Zealand dollars on Julian Dean (CSC)? Just because it’s a classic, doesn’t mean we can’t have a shock winner. How about Saeco’s Fabio Sacchi – another Italian? (And why are there so many good Italian sprinters – that’s a topic for another day!)

And how about those riders who reckon they’re strong enough to escape on the Poggio? It’s not easy – few have the strength to stay clear of a peloton sweeping downhill into San Remo. Only once in the last 6 editions have the sprinters lost out, when Andrei Tchmil surprised them inside the final 800m in 1999.

Principal among these riders will be the three Italian stars Danilo Di Luca (Saeco) bringing awesome form from Tirreno-Adriatico, Paolo Bettini (Quickstep- Davitamon) and Giuliano Figueras (Ceramiche Panaria-Fiordo). With a hill coming so close to the end of the race, these guys are in with a shout because they all have the class to get away, stay away, and to finish rapidly if a small group is in the lead. They’ve all had wins this season, and would love to have this Classic on their palmares.

Rabobank’s Michael Boogerd will be almost certain to try a similar tactic, but for some reason, you wouldn’t fancy his chances against any of the above, would you?

Milan-San Remo is a race which can be affected by a number of factors – weather, how much effort the peloton puts into the early part of the race, and so on. Sometimes this means we have some pretty slow times – when Erik Zabel took his 3rd win in 2001, he completed the course just 0.3 km/h faster than when Giuseppe Olmo won in 1938 – so much for progress!

One thing is for sure, though. If the race starts off at a leisurely pace, it’ll sure as hell finish flat out! Who’s going to win? I’ll stick my neck out for Oscar Friere to edge Cipo’ and Zabel, but then again …

Tune in to PezCycling News for a full race report on Saturday!

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