Let's not call this a power poll, since we do enough of those and they are intended to track changes. This is a one-time semi-ranking of the teams headed to Milano-Sanremo, and a preview of the various cards (sprinters, classics guys, etc) that each DS is holding.
[Aside: be sure to check out this UK site devoted exclusively to La Classicissima (MSR).] Anyway, starting from the top:
Quick Step: The favorites. So many weapons, and as I've harped on before, Boonen's ability to attack like the classics hard-guys AND finish off a sprint sets all their other plans in motion. Outside of a big bunch sprint, he is the single most dangerous person in the race, which in turn forces teams to take their chances letting Chavanel or Barredo go. Allan Davis could very well win out of the bunch
(though in fact he has very little history in big classics)(ed: except two years ago, when he finished second in a big classic. Called Milano-San something or other).
Everyone else... on the flip:
Serramenti: Oy, where to start? Rebellin is the captain, and other than a couple top-20s his fourth last year was his first real result in MSR. But he clearly has goals he wants to realize while he still can, and looked very sharp last week. A sexier pick might be Scarponi, but like Armstrong he'd have to be more or less alone in those last two kilometers. Francesco Ginanni is awfully young, though he has shown a knack for winning out of a group of highly select classics guys. Alessandro Bertollini lit up the Poggio last year. They've even got Leonardo Moser on hand for genetic gravitas.
Cervelo Test Team: Clear favorites to do something. Haussler's flying, Thor is the kind of survivor who can win here, Klier has four finishes in the top 21, etc. There is nobody on the roster who you'd point to and say "that guy can't lose in the right conditions," but everyone brings something to the table. If the race is bunched up just enough so that team tactics matter, you can write them onto the podium someplace.
LPR: Two favorites of very different stripes, Alessandro Petacchi and Danilo DiLuca. OK, the latter is a longshot with the rest of the Ardennes types, and La Manie may sap Petacchi's resources and ruin his finale, but I wouldn't take any bets against him. We know he can wind it up in KM 298... albeit on the Via Roma, if not this year's finishing strip. Anyway, they have a stable of guys used to setting up Peta (Ongarato) and DiLuca (Bosisio, Pietropolli). Nobody will be sleeping on LPR.
Katusha: Filippo Pozzato is an almost perfect rider for this event, which explains why he got a win and a second place before his 27th birthday. Other than napping on [or being powerless to stop] Cancellara's escape last year, Pippo outsprinted the elite chase group, proving for the second time that he can turn on the jets in km 298. He seems a little down this year, but if his head is on straight and he's in position, Pippo could turn those fortunes around in a hurry.
Lampre: I can't tell you how completely depressed I am that Alessandro Ballan won't be there, riding near the front of the pack over the Poggio in his world champion's kit. He wouldn't have been much more than a dark horse, but there are certain protocols in cycling, and one of them is wearing the champions' kits in your home country's greatest events. [His Flanders absence... let's not go there.] Anyway, the team leadership duties fall instead to Mirco Lorenzetto and Enrico Gasparotto, two dynamic riders off the B-list of favorites. Mirco took fifth here last year in his second try; Gasparotto 12th in his second effort. Both are riding very well. So while we won't see the rainbow, look for some flashes of pink on the Poggio, for sure.
Columbia-High Road: All eyes will be on Cavendish, but if/when that doesn't pan out, the potential last-second plans revert to George Hincapie, Maxime Monfort, Thomas Lovkvist, and maybe Mark Renshaw or Edvald Boasson-Hagen. This isn't likely their day, but sheesh... Do they ever bring less than an all-star lineup for a race?
Liquigas: There's something about this lineup that I don't like. Yes, Bennati is an obvious sprint fave, with the quality to get in position too. But Basso? He brings nothing to this kind of race. Pellizotti? Murilo Fischer? I don't know why they are here and not Quinziato. I suppose there's hoping Nibali can ride in heroically, but that's a long shot. To me this team looks like a bunch of guys getting in their miles and hoping Bennati can do it, maybe in tandem with Nibali. This team hasn't shown much of a plan so far this year.
ISD: Lots of eyes on Giovanni Visconti, who does the kind of things that work on a course like this, but he has no history of riding for himself here, so he's an unknown. Oddly enough, Dario Cioni hasn't been here much either, despite his lineage (sorta) and a decade of work starting back at Mapei. Oscar Gatto time, anyone?
Silence-Lotto: One of the best trio of captains in the race, after QSI and Cervelo. Gilbert is the kind of aggressor you'd look for in a unique race as this. Thomas Dekker has a big enough engine, and after running 15th in the T-A time trial he's starting to wake up. [Although my faint memory asks, does he have bike handling issues?] Greg Van Avermaet can win from a bunch, theoretically at least. The more I write this, the less convinced I become. Moving on...
Acqua e Sapone: Luca Paolini has gotten himself onto the podium twice, which makes him an excellent secret weapon when Garzelli attacks on the Poggio to draw off attention. So simple, no?
Milram: Sending out Gerald Ciolek as captain is no more suspect than relying on Cavendish or Tyler Farrar to win in a sprint. Can't rule it out. Wouldn't bet much on it.
Saxo Bank: Hm, MSR isn't really a race to put six decent guys on the front and wear everyone out. First, your six guys are probably pretty worn out themselves after six hours. Secondly, making people tired won't help you get down the Poggio. Since I'm dissing them, you can start betting on Breschel or Arvesen for the win, but I don't see a very good match.
AG2R: Don't overlook Rinaldo Nocentini, who rolled in with first chase group last year. They're thin for a contending team, but that didn't matter before.
Garmin-Slipstream: I already touted Farrar, who in turn touted Dean, so I give up. They're another team with no hangers-on, like Cervelo, but less of a chance of making the finale. Still, you can't rule it out (I will not be talked down here).
Rabobank: I don't smell a win here. Replacing Freire with Tom Leezer is to their detriment, and the remaining squad of Flecha, Langeveld, Nuyens and Posthuma looks an awful lot like guys getting ready for their more natural environs, starting next week.
Euskaltel: Can't overlook seeing Landaluze in the mix last year, but otherwise they're hoping to spring Koldo Fernandez out of the pack. It's too bad Sammy Sanchez isn't here, I see him as the heir to the Savoldelli skillset: legendary descending, solid climbing, ability to solo, and Sanchez (unlike Savoldelli) can finish off a sprint occasionally. Think about his Olympic triumph: a bombing descent to a short finale (sorta flat) with a small group sprint. Wouldn't this play very well at MSR? Obviously there are great dissimilarities between the courses, but his fellow medalists were Rebellin and Cancellara -- first and fourth at MSR last year. Ah well, he doesn't listen to me...
As for the rest...
Astana: Lance was 11th in 1996! Jaro-Pop has lots of high finishes, making him a very useful lieutenant to Captain Lance. Should be interesting anyway.
Barloworld: Plan A, B, C and Z: get Hunter to the sprint. The track record isn't great.
Bbox Bweeg: A ship without a captain, now that the crafty resourceful Voeckler is home with a clavicle.
Caisse d'Epargne: Lots of big names -- LuLu, J-Rod, JJ Rojas Gil, Kiryienka -- though nobody with a history here. File under "vaguely interesting".
Ceramica Flaminia: Rossi should appear in the bunch sprint, very respectable 21st in his debut last year. Vlad Duma the resident hammerhead. Remind me again what Simeoni does well? Besides get under Lance's skin?
Cofidis: Tourists. My pick for first foreign team to make it home after the race. A heavy favorite, actually.
Fuji-Servetto: How do you tell Eros Capecchi from Ermanno Capelli? Hm, Capecchi seems to have longer hair, but that's about it. Fortunately, you won't be troubled by such questions at any time Saturday.