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MSR Week: Sizing Up the Sprinters

Milano-Sanremo I don't have a great deal to say about Tirreno-Adriatico, since it's a training event and since Gavia won Italy in the custody battle. Except this: is there another stage race in the world where the stages overshadow the overall? Le Due Mari features some really excellent stage battles... and I couldn't care less about Garzelli versus Scarponi. No time trial, smallish climbs (the race's hallmark, really), and again, it's a training race, except to the guys at the head of the field coming into the finishing town. Then it was truly game on.

Which is why today's sprint seemed so important. The sprinting crowd was very much in effect at T-A, and yet there had only been a couple true sprint finishes before today, where a bunch gallop was a virtual lock: long, flat run-in, sprinters getting tired of missing out on the action, seventh day of cold, wet racing which would tend to diminish the mental and physical state of someone looking to try a long solo effort. It was business time.

Now, my shtick (several years running) on Milano-Sanremo is that anyone can win, in a variety of ways. The climbers can attack on the Cipressa or more likely the Poggio. The all-rounders can sneak away on the descent into San Remo. Italy breeds a whole separate class of riders -- climbers who can sprint -- seemingly engineered for this terrain. Then there's the effect of 300km in the legs, which can scramble the conventional wisdom.

But for now, let's put aside the Garzellis and Pozzatos and focus for now on sizing up the sprinting peloton for the main course, La Primavera.

Edvald Boasson Hagen, Sky

Form Indicator: Well, he just dusted Alessandro Petacchi in Italy on a nice, flat run-in. Other than beating Mark Cavendish in the Madison or Shaun White in the halfpipe, I don't know what he has left to prove.

Team: The Silverbacks were in charge today, beating Lampre and Liquigas to the front of the bunch. Surely this made all the difference: Petacchi had to come around (and couldn't), Farrar got boxed in, and I'd have to rewind the tape to figure out where Bennati disappeared to. The lack of a Columbia presence at the front has thrown the pack into chaos, and Sky have as decent a chance to fill the vacuum and establish some order as the next team. Barry, Sutton, Henderson and Flecha (if he's not freelancing) are all cool-handed veterans.

Obstacle: Boasson Hagen hasn't done a 300km race as the leader of a pro team. I'm sure he can survive, as he did last year in service of Cavendish, but will he have the same blinding speed after that distance? Will he manage to fight to the front after the long ride and the Capes and Cipressa and Poggio?

Survey Says? Odds-on favorite right now. By Friday he will have been declared the winner in advance. Eddy is saying he's not as sure. Neither am I.

Carry on...

Alessandro Petacchi, Lampre

Form Indicator: Can't complain, really. He has four wins, though all B-list quality, and only a pair of seconds in T-A, losing to Bennati in stage 3. As a former winner, that may be close enough in the absence of a true, flawless favorite.

Team: Lampre had one guy with him today. There's a lot I don't like about this team, but surely they can get around Liguria just fine, thanks.

Obstacle: He won MSR in 2005, on the heels of three stage wins in T-A. In short, he was on fire. When he has been less than completely on fire, he hasnt' won here.

Survey Says? Top five. Probably no better.

Mark Cavendish, HTC-Columbia

Form Indicator: Dead last today after falling with 8km to go. More distressing, however, has been the fact that he couldn't get to the front of any race. By this time last year he had five wins in his pocket, including the T-A finale. Clearly he's not just super-sandbagging, he is not in shape yet. And all this because of bad teeth. Insert Simpsons joke. You have to wonder if they shouldn't call up Greipel and tell him to haul ass to Milan. Just in case.

Team: They're the industry standard for leadouts, though only if there's someone behind them to actually, you know, be led out.

Obstacle: I don't want to be unfair -- he's been off his bike. Even Lars Boom would look like crap now if he were unable to train. Cav will get there soon and make amends.

Survey Says? Look on the bright side, he needs training miles, right?

Tyler Farrar, Garmin-Transitions

Form Indicator: Like Petacchi, no complaints. He hasn't scored the big win, like last year, so I wouldn't assume either he or his squad are fully confident about their chances. But I am fairly sure that if you asked him how his form is, he would say (truthfully) that he feels fine. Just waiting for things to click.

Team: Not a great week for the Gar-Men. With Dean, Hunter, Maaskant and Van Summeren all on hand, you would think/hope that one of their primary objectives for the week was to fire up the leadout machine. Not that anyone should confuse this with Qatar, but where there were sprints, Farrar was mostly on his own, trying to grab the wheel of whoever had the hot hand. The window is open for Garmin to move up and form their train, but Cavendish will be in shape soon, Columbia will get reorganized, and the window may just slam shut.

Obstacle: Newness. He crashed out last year, in his first participation. Things can only get better, no?

Survey Says? I would be surprised, but not shocked.

Tom Boonen, Quick Step

Form Indicator: The guy is a beast. Boonen has picked his spots judiciously, like a veteran on good form and not looking to squander it. He's got four wins, including the only stage he really contested in Tirreno.

Team: No less professional than the others. He doesn't do big leadouts, but Tosatto and Velo are on hand for that, with Chavanel and Barredo looking vaguely threatening to any team that locks exclusively on Tommeke's wheel.

Obstacle: Not only has the win eluded him, even in his biggest years (2004-06), he hadn't even won a race in Italy before the stage win last Friday. CrAzY, I know. But '06 and '07 were the only years where Boonen contested the finale, and he has a 3rd and 4th to show for it.

Survey Says? My pick to win. Name a monument that is within reach and that he hasn't already won? He'll go all out this time.

Thor Hushovd, Cervelo Test Team

Form Indicator: Good question. Apparently he wasn't feeling well this week. Cervelo really can't buy a break so far this year. "A little sick" might not sound like much, but this race will be won by whoever has snappier legs after nearly 300km. Not by someone battling a virus.

Team: The usual array of hardened vets: Hammond, Klier, Hunt, etc. Least of their problems.

Obstacle: MSR has never been overly kind to Hushovd, with only a pair of thirds over the years, though you would think otherwise. He's a sprinter who can handle his bike and pour on the wattage for long periods of time. The odd climb isn't necessarily death to his chances. I would have to guess that there's never been anything holding him back (when properly fit); just other guys being a shade better.

Survey Says? Forget it. If he's not in perfect health, he's toast.

Daniele Bennati, Liquigas

Form Indicator: Good enough. His win over Petacchi this week should put the doubters to rest, or at least turn the volume down some.

Team: Liquigas were all over the front today at 2km but never got organized. Bennati himself drifted back 70 places. No matter; they have carried a lot of water this week on two fronts. You can't not like this team right now.

Obstacle: Does he believe he can win? Or something like that. There is an inside-baseball story someplace that I don't have on why Daniele Bennati is a great sprinter but doesn't win more.

Survey Says? Meh. Top ten, if it's a sprint.

Oscar Freire, Rabobank

Form Indicator: Unlike his rivals, Freire spent no time in Italy putting his nose into the wind. His DS Frans Maassen called him the "main man" for MSR, and with no indicator of trouble, I would hesitate to argue.

Team: The eternal question: will it all click for Rabo? Well, it has twice before, and this Rabo team, while greener, is long on wattage. Lopex's image of Boom thundering home in leadout for Freire is a compelling one. Whether we will ever see it is another matter.

Obstacle: Nothing. Certainly not the hills, or experience, or his team, or his health. Someone better?

Survey Says? Top three likely.

Matti Breschel, Saxo Bank

Form Indicator: I can't find any indication that there's anything wrong, so I will assume that, despite no intriguing results, Breschel is all ready for Saturday.

Team: Fabian Cancellara is either an ideal teammate or a huge obstacle, depending on whether the 2008 winner has designs of his own on victory. Otherwise, the usual, ultra-professional outfit.

Obstacle: Breschel's history at MSR in no way indicates that he's got a chance to win.

Survey Says? Meh.

Greg Van Avermaet, Omega Pharma

Form Indicator: 110 percent Meh. Not a single top ten this year. He hasn't won a competition of any kind since taking the points prize at the 2008 Vuelta. Meh!

Team: Omega Pharma. What could possibly go wrong?

Obstacle: Phillippe Gilbert, for starters. If it's a big bunch and Gilbert is there, you can be 100% sure that's who the team will work for. I don't think of Gilbert as a sprinter (to the extent you might think that way of Boonen), but after last season Gilbert is under pressure to keep winning.

Survey Says? Nah.

Allan Davis, Astana

Form Indicator: Nothing to speak of. Davis got a late start to the season after his transfer jumble. It shows.

Team: Astana do certain things well, but this isn't one of them.

Obstacle: Too many to count. Except for experience: Davis does have a second and fourth in his last two MSR starts.

Survey Says? If he were more prepared, I would make him a dark horse pick. But I just don't think he's fully on his game yet.

Mattia Gavazzi, Colnago

Form Indicator:  Fifth today. That was actually the first time this week he showed his face in a finale. So, not great.

Team: Colnago. At least they will look good.

Obstacle: First MSR, small team...

Survey Says? Fuggedaboutit.

Francesco Ginanni, Androni Giocayaddayadda

Form Indicator:  Now here's your Conti-level Italian dark horse. He won Trofeo Laigueglia, beating Gavazzi, and is generally a consistent, all round kind of rider. He was also in the mix with the hard men at Monte Paschi, taking 6th. Sorta pushes the definition of a "sprinter" for this column, but I didn't want to ignore all the conti guys.

Team: The guys whose kit looks like an office birthday card. Two Bertolinis, a Bertogliati and a Bertagnolli. Also, Alberto Loddo, who wins the odd sprint. And Scarponi, lurking around looking for his own chance. Not terrible by any means.

Obstacle: I don't know if a young guy who wins smaller races in sprints from smaller fields can possibly navigate a cream-of-the-crop bunch in full gallop.

Survey Says? Nice story, except it won't happen.

William Bonnet, BBox Bouygues Telecom

Form Indicator: Undoubtedly on solid footing, after his win in Paris-Nice... except he took a DNF in the last stage, and I can't figure out why. It's fairly unusual to do so, barring illness or injury, which would take him completely out of contention.

Team: Is this race in France? Mais non. Une grande probleme.

Obstacle: Beyond his health and his team? Can't think of anything.

Survey Says? Miracles do happen.

Today's finale: judge for yourself...

Settima Tappa Tirreno - Adriatico 2010 (via SpazioCiclismo)