What's Cool In Road Cycling

Milano-Sanremo ’12: La Previewissima!

Spring 1907, the Tsar still rules Russia but the seeds of revolution begin to sprout; the world’s first musical broadcast takes place; women get the vote in Finland, long before the rest of Europe – and Frenchman Lucien Petit-Breton is first to Sanremo, having covered the 281 kilometres from Milano at 26.606 kph. Milano-Sanremo, the Primavera (‘Spring time’) or the Classicissima (‘Classic of Classics’) – but it’s more than a name, more than a race. It’s a part of Italian history, culture, life.

A year or two ago, I did a Primavera preview where I wrote about my favourite editions of the race.

Here’s what my friend and PEZ colleague had to say about the 1970 Primavera.

The win of Dancelli in the 1970 Milano-Sanremo represents the deep essence of the Italian national feeling. Our country does not have a strong common national feeling.

At least not like the USA or Russia has; this is mostly due to domination of the country in the Middle Ages by very different creeds. Germany in the north east; France in the north west; Spain in the south and the Church in centre.

Original photo credit CyclingWeekly.co.uk

Sometimes, in this strange country, we find a reason to feel on the same side. The Dancelli win in 1970 was for sure one of those occasions.

The Sanremo was won by foreigners for several years before and there was no light at the end of that tunnel. That year, Michele Dancelli decided to win and stop that black list with a long solo break. That afternoon, the fear of seeing Dancelli caught by the bunch and another stranger on the top of the podium in Sanremo again, brought all Italians together.

This feeling was so strong that many babies were called Michele in honour of that event (one example is Michele Bartoli!)

If you ask today to an Italian 60-70 years old who is not interested in cycling, he can still tell you about that afternoon when Dancelli got back the Primavera.

The Tour of Beijing will never evoke passions like those.

The 2012 race will be the 103rd edition, with only the 1916, 1944 and 1945 races succumbing to World Wars.

Starting in grey, industrial Milan, it traverses the vast plains of the Po Valley before grinding up the Turchino Pass then throwing itself down to find the glorious Ligurian Sea beside historic Genoa.

The descent of the Turchino.

The tough climb of La Mangie with 100 km. to go was added a few years ago – a long, steep brute of a climb with a dangerous descent, especially if it’s damp (as it was last year).

Then it’s the coastal rampage – in a series of huge surges, which you don’t really see on TV.

These surges are one of the reasons – avoiding crashes is the other – that it’s a race for front runners.

If you miss a split and are part of the frantic charge to get back, when you do rejoin as a lull occurs there’s little time to stretch legs, eat or drink before it all goes crazy again.

These high wattage purges sap the strength and burn up precious energy required for the Capi; a series of small hills, the capi – Mele, Cervo and Berta – which would hardly merit a mention in a different race.

But taken at breakneck speed with almost six hours already in the legs they are savage.

Last year, Michele Scarponi bridged from the chasers to the lead group in one of the most impressive bridging efforts we’ve seen in a long time. Can he take that effort to get back into the race on the Cipressa and translate it into a race winning attack?

Then there’s the Cipressa, a ‘proper’ climb with 28 km. to go and the graveyard of many a sprinter.

The Poggio is the last obstacle with 10 km. to go; and where Merckx forged most of his seven victories.

The descent is mad, the finale through the streets of lovely Sanremo is frantic – and only the very best will win.

There it is – Sanremo. Only the twisting, turning, crazy descent into Sanremo and one final monster sprint stands in the way of victory.

Matt Goss rounded off a fabulous spring last year to win in the ‘City of Flowers.’

Can he win again in 2012?

Here’s our top ten – in alphabetical order, to avoid showing preference (even though I’d love to see Boonen win.)

Alessandro Ballan, BMC: Fourth last year, fourth on the Strade Bianche – he’s big and strong and it’s just possible he could give the slip to a small group in the streets of Sanremo – if not, a place of honour.

Finally out of the doping allegation smog, Ballan is back to his best and is a definite contender.

Daniele Bennati, RadioShack: He was fifth two years ago after launching too early – this year he was strong in the Strade Bianche and if a final clue was needed about his form, how’s second to Cancellara in the Tirreno finale?

He’s a possible, for sure.

Daniele Bennati’s form is red hot.

Edvald Boasson Hagen, Sky: Multi talented, fast, strong; a win in Tirreno indicates from – his team mates rave about him.

Here’s the ‘but;’ David Brailsford, Sky and Cavendish dream of this one – winning the Primavera in the rainbow jersey.

But if Cav cracks on the Cipressa . . . .

Edvald Boasson Hagen’s options will be limited on Saturday, but if for some reason Cavendish isn’t up to snuff…

Tom Boonen, QuickStep: He’s back.

Tall, slim, strong, confident, smiling – it’s the Boonen of old.

He’s been close here before and at the end of 300 K he’s as fast as at the end of 200 – especially if it’s a rough day.

Tom Boonen is back to his best – can he translate that into triumph in Sanremo?

The ‘neg’ is that it’s just a little early for him – his peak won’t come until a certain Sunday in Bruges in a week or two.

But he can win.

Fabian Cancellara, RadioShack: Bestially strong and with good morale after his Strada Bianche and Tirreno wins he’ll be marked tightly in the finale.

But remember that in a straight sprint with Goss last year, he wasn’t far away.

He’s a hot favourite.

Talk about a rider that should keep people up at night worrying…Fabian Cancellara is just that man.

Mark Cavendish, Sky: Stages in the Middle East, Kuurne at a canter and a stage in Tirreno – it all looks good.

But my man Viktor reckons he’s just a little over weight and surely the opposition will scald the Cipressa to try and distance him?

A World Champion victory in Sanremo????

But ‘Cav’s Cav’ – he’s won here before and he’ll probably only only get one chance in his life to win the Primavera with the maillot arc en ciel on his back.

In addition, there’s no doubt that Sky will have a master plan – and have the discipline and fitness to execute it.

If he’s there, in the group at the death then he’ll win.

Oscar Freire, Katusha: ‘The Cat’ they call him, those critters have nine lives and it would surprise no one to see him throw off his usual cloak of invisibility in the last two hundred metres, like he did two years ago.

The way he finished on stage two of Tirreno indicates that only a fool would bet against the Spaniard on Saturday.

Oscar Freire is back on good form, and there’s no doubting his credentials in La Primavera.

Andre Greipel, Lotto: The season started beautifully for the big German with wins in Australia and Oman.

But the way he was brushed aside at Kuurne doesn’t bode well for the rough and tumble of the Poggio descent and the runaway freight train which hurtles through the streets of Sanremo.

Andre Greipel will start on Saturday as an outside favorite. If he can manage to get to Sanremo with the leaders, he’s one of the very few that can possibly beat Cavendish.

Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas: He tried to go solo two years ago in the finale – but now he’s stronger, wiser and with the confidence of a Tirreno win behind him.

It’s just possible – but don’t look back, Vincenzo.

There’s no questioning Nibali’s current form following his win at Tirreno-Adriatico.

Peter Sagan, Liquigas: Perhaps the most talented of the ‘new generation’ riders; his rides in Oman and Tirreno speak for themselves.

Combined with Nibali, Peter Sagan makes Liquigas a very, very dangerous team.

Once he recovers from his efforts for Nibali over the last week, he’ll fly.

If the winner doesn’t come from those ten riders, it’ll be a real surprise – but then we’d love Matt Goss or Simon Gerrans to surprise us.

He hasn’t looked anything like the dominator of 2011 of late, but you can never, ever write off Philippe Gilbert…see below.

Sportsbook Odds
Cavendish 3.50
Gilbert 6.50
Sagan 12.00
Greipel 14.00
Goss 14.00
Cancellara 14.00
Freire 16.00
Boonen 16.00
Petacchi 19.00
Hushovd 23.00
Boasson Hagen 23.00
Haussler 26.00
Farrar 26.00
Bennati 29.00
Scarponi 34.00
Ballan 67.00
Pozzato 67.00
Valverde 67.00

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