Update [2007-3-22 17:55:54 by chris]: This is reposted as our official who's-gonna-win (non-VDS version) open thread. Also there are some new items up, including the Pez list of contenders... but they don't pick a winner yet. buck-buck...brawwkkk! Oh, and scratch Bettini from your favorites, he's just planning to show up, if the pain from last week's crashes will allow even that.
Pez has a lovely 100-year retrospective on what it takes to win... and they're promising to name their favorite later today. As a multinational conglomerate, Pez has to navigate layers and layers of internal bureaucracy before it can reach consensus on a favorite, but here at the Podium Cafe, our slimmed-down management model means we can forge ahead. Or more to the point, I can forge ahead, and unless Pete and Drew shame me out of it, this will be the official site favorite (tm). Anyway, the following analysis presumes most of the favorites survive the Poggio; the potential of a breakaway winner would make just about everyone a favorite.
Continued on the flip; or hit comments to tell us your winner.
There are only a handful of former winners on hand: Erik Zabel, Oscar Freire, Paolo Bettini, Alessandro Petacchi, and Filippo Pozzato. All are viable candidates, and at least Freire, Petacchi and Pozzato are likely leaders on their teams, as well as serious threats. Zabel will likely set up Petacchi, while Bettini is hurting, and probably gearing up for Flanders, where he won't draw all 25 teams' attention.
Other Top-Tier Candidates
Luca Paolini may in fact have Pozzato working for him, at least in a field sprint. He's been third on two occasions, including last year. Tom Boonen would be an obvious favorite but has been having back issues, and starting Saturday will be confronting the intersquad conflict that's been hanging over Quick Step's head since Bettini won the Worlds. Thor Hushovd has a podium in 2005, and has all the tools to win a sprint for a monument. Daniele Bennati has been on good form (despite stopping Saturday in Paris-Nice), and was even seen active in the climbs, making him a top sprinter who can be expected to survive the Poggio. Robbie McEwen has two problems: the length and the final climbs... but nobody will want to see him on their wheel in the last km if he gets that far. Stuart O'Grady almost got second-tier status, but he's been great lately and has a 3rd and 4th in the last three years.
Except where past top 10 finishes are noted, these hunches are based on current good form: Stefano Garzelli (7th twice); Nick Nuyens; Allen Davis and Yaroslav Popovych; Koldo Fernandez; Philippe Gilbert (6th in '05); Stef Schumacher; Alessandro Ballan (9th in '06), Danilo Napolitano (5th in '06); Leif Hoste; Juan Antonio Flecha Gianonni; Riccardo Ricco; Igor Astarloa (6th in '04), Mirko Celestino (2nd in '03); Mikhael Ignatiev; Eisel/Ciolek/Klier/Gerdemann; Baden Cooke, and Jimmy Casper. Teams with no apparent hope (prove me wrong!): AG2R, Astana, Caisse d'Epargne, Barloworld, Ceramica Panaria, and LPR.
And the Winner Is:
Oscar Freire! Oscarita makes sense for a handful of reasons...
- History: one win, six top ten finishes in seven years, or every time he's started.
- Form: In February he was going strong with three wins and the overall at Andalucia. He also took a respectable second in the first Tirreno-Adriatico sprint stage, and stayed with the climbers on stage 2 before easing back into the field. Quite simply, Freire is a field sprinter who can survive the long, undulating ride like a classics rider. It's no accident he's always there.
- Team: Rabobank are off to a fabulous start so far this year, though in minor races. But Freire will enjoy great support from the likes of Flecha, Max Van Heeswijk and Leon Van Bon. All the pieces are in place.
And yours? I know it's only Wednesday, but let the debate begin.