clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Arrivederci, Sanremo

A look back at this year's La Primavera

"When you have good legs, the sprint seems shorter." Wisdom from the now three-time Milano-Sanremo winner Oscar Freire. "I am the only one to have won twice, and no one called me a favorite," he said in his post-race interview, and he dedicated the win to his Rabobank team. Msr_new_mediumFreire now matches Fausto Coppi with three victories in the Italian classic.

It was a long day out this Milano-Sanremo, as it often is. Spring has decided to come late to Europe, this year, and La Primavera unfolded in wet conditions. Fog hung on the coastal mountains. Even Filippo Pozzato looked a little dishevelled at the finish, his face marked with the timeless patina of road grime and a hard day of racing. Timeless too the winner’s smile, erasing in a moment the fatigue of the day’s efforts.

It all came down to the sprint Saturday, though not without a few detours along the way. Daniel Oss of Liquigas-Doimo dropped Daniele Bennati off around 200 meters to go. It might have been the perfect lead-out, except for a steady headwind and the stellar form of Oscar Freire. "It was a little long," said a disappointed Bennati after the race. The Liquigas sprinter did what he could as all the while, Freire stalked Bennati’s rear wheel. Then, he pounced. The acceleration from the Spanish pocket rocket proved enough to blow Tom Boonen clear off his wheel, while Bennati fought tooth and elbow against the Belgian to salvage his position. Alessandro Petacchi, who rode il Poggio at the front, finished third, nearly edged out by neo-pro Sacha Modolo of Colnago-Csf Inox. Sacha Modolo... who's that?

As an amateur, Modolo won 26 races. His current team manager describes him as a sprinter who can climb well. Thanks Signor Reverberi, we hadn’t quite noticed. Modolo came out of Zalf, the Italian amateur team that produced Damiano Cunego and Ivan Basso, among others. Last week, Modolo finished third in the final stage of Tirreno-Adriatico. "I saw that Oscar Freire was the best of all," said Modolo after the race. "I got on his wheel. It was the right wheel, but in the last corner, I lost it," the neo-pro continued. Tom Boonen and Alessandro Petacchi had come up from behind, and they too wanted the wheel of Oscar Freire. Modolo dropped back to around eleventh position, and started his sprint from way back. "I overtook everyone... and I was convinced that I would succeed in beating Petacchi at the line. Only Boonen and Freire remained ahead of me," he recounted. For his part, Petacchi pronounced himself happy with his ride. "I did a good Sanremo," he concluded.

After a hard day of racing, Liquigas-Doimo took home fifth and the prize for most chaotic team tactics. Everywhere you looked in this Milano-Sanremo, you saw a green Liquigas jersey. Manuel Quinziato driving the split after La Mànie, Franco Pellizotti on la Cipressa, Roman Kreuziger on il Poggio, Vincenzo Nibali in the finale. The hard riding by Pellizotti and Krueziger on the climbs certainly did Bennati no favors. No sprinter likes a hard pace when the road turns uphill.

Vincenzo Nibali tried to make like Sean Kelly on the Poggio descent, then launched a big move in the flat run-in to the finish. Filippo Pozzato liked the looks of that move so much, he countered, then went over the top of Nibali and rode on alone. Nibali’s move made some tactical sense, both as a play for the win and as an effort to force a chase from one of the other teams. But Bennati must surely have wished he had one more team-mate in the final kilometer when he started his long headwind-hindered sprint to the line. Too bad for Bennati that his team suffers from a surfeit of talent.

No doubt he looked enviously at Lampre, who clearly had Alessandro Petacchi’s interests in mind. Lampre jerseys patrolled the front on La Cipressa and set a steady sprinter-friendly tempo on the lower slopes of il Poggio. If Petacchi made a mistake, it may have been his ride on the Poggio, where he raced perilously close to the front. Still, he kept his head as the bunch swarmed in reaction to moves from Philippe Gilbert and Filippo Pozzato, and he never dropped too far back down the field. Bennati, by contrast, slipped precipitously down the field. It was smart riding from Petacchi, who kept himself well-positioned for the win that in the end eluded him.

Speculation abounded in the run-in to this Milano-Sanremo that Mark Cavendish sandbagged his chances and would rise Lazarus-like from his poor form in time to summit the Poggio with the leaders. Alas for the Cavendish tifosi, fitness does not come so quickly as all that. Cavendish watched the race disappear up the road on La Cipressa never to be seen again. It’s not all champagne and podium kisses, the life of a sprinter. After the race, Cavendish blamed Katusha for his misfortunes. He needed a wheel change on the Passo del Turchino and reached the main field only near the summit. Then, a crash in the tunnel created another delay, while Cavendish claims that Katusha knew he was behind and rode a hard tempo on the front. It was a bad day all around for the British sprinter, and it seems unlikely that the decision by Katusha to ride hard made much difference in the end. It made for a nice bit of polemica, anyway.

Spare a thought for the doomed early breakaways, Ratti, Caccia, and Piemontesi, who attacked at kilometer 1 and built up a lead of 20 minutes by the Passo del Turchino. Dimitri Grabovskyy spent days and days off the front of last year’s Giro d’Italia. On Saturday, he attacked on the Capo Berta and spent nearly ten kilometers in the wind. It would be interesting to see what he could do beyond getting his small ISD team on television, though certainly he does that job well enough.

And so we say arrivederci to Milano-Sanremo for this year, arrivederci to the Passo del Turchino, the Ligurian Coast, the Capi, La Cipressa, and il Poggio. It’s time to head North to colder climes, to the cobbled climbs of Flanders and Northern France. Oscar Freire heads next to Gent-Wevelgem before riding the Veulta a País Vasco in preparation for the Ardennes Classics. "I always race to win," Freire said on Saturday. A sprinter winning the in the Ardennes? That would be a sight. Gazzetta wrote of Freire yesterday that he always wins when we least expect it. A prediction? Perhaps, but that's all for the future. For now, it's time for the cobbles, time for the big men of the dark north to come into the light for their shot at glory.