By Andrew Hood
This time there won’t be an asterisk next to his victory.
Oscar Freire (Rabobank) unleashed a masterful sprint to win Saturday’s centenary celebration of Milan-San Remo ahead of Allan Davis to claim victory in emphatic style to erase the memories of 2004 when he won by a whisker ahead of the celebrating Erik Zabel.
Freire, 31, came off Alessandro Petacchi’s wheel with about 100 meters to go in the season’s longest classic and swept up the left side of the Via Roma to surge across the line clear by a bike length ahead of Davis (Discovery Channel) and Tom Boonen (Quick Step-Innergetic).
“I felt good and I was on the wheel of Petacchi and I had good legs,” the smiling Freire said at the line. “In the end it’s only the victory that counts and I am very happy for myself and the team. What would make me happy now? To win the world’s a fourth time.”
A daring attack by Italian phenom Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Philippe Gilbert (FDJeux) over the Poggio was reeled in with under 2km to go to set up the mass sprint in the centenary edition of La Primavera.
Strong tailwinds along the final 50km helped the peloton keep a tight rein on any would-be escapees to assure a sprint finish.
The three-time world champion won Milan-San Remo three years ago when Zabel celebrated what he thought was his fifth victory too early and the cagey Freire stabbed his bike across the line to win.
This time around, Freire was sure he was safely across the line before throwing both arms up into the cloudy Italian sky in delight. Three Aussies finished in the top 5 with Davis second, Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto) fourth and Stuart O’Grady (CSC) fifth.
Milram had Zabel and another Milram rider to catapult 2005 winner Alessandro Petacchi, but “Ale-Jet” stalled with 100 meters to go and coasted across the line eighth without contesting the sprint.
“Everything was perfect, until the last 150 meters,” Petacchi said. “I don’t have any real excuse. The team was perfect and the only one who wasn’t was me. I felt good on the final climbs and in the sprint, well, it shouldn’t be forgotten that I broke my kneecap seven months and perhaps I’m still paying for that.”
Just how good is Freire on the Via Roma? In seven consecutive starts, he’s never finished worse than seventh (in 2003), won twice (2004, 2007) and finished third in 2000.
The oft-injured Spaniard has an uncanny nose for big-time results.
He hardly raced after winning the Vattenfall Cyclassics last July, suffering from headaches and dizziness from complications of a neck treatment. The Rabobank captain returned to racing in style this spring, winning his first race at the Challenge Mallorca and then two stages and the overall at the Ruta del Sol in Spain.
“My secret for overcoming all of these troubles is my head,” Freire told reporters. “I always think positively. I know my body and I know when to listen to myself. This morning, before the race, I believed I could win even more. I knew I was ready.”
On Saturday, he was among the five-star favorites and he read the race perfectly. After coming off the torturous Poggio descent, he snagged the ideal position of being on Petacchi’s wheel, with Boonen, McEwen and O’Grady stacked up behind him in the final 300 meters.
“I decided to get behind Petacchi in the final kilometer because I knew his team would lead him out and that it was the best position,” Freire told Eurosport. “I had the legs, the position and even had the space to get past Petacchi, so it was a perfect sprint.”
Freire has one of the best finishing sprints in the business and made easy work of the dying Petacchi and easily stayed ahead of the surging Boonen. The surprising Davis came off the sixth wheel to power into second.
The victory marks the fourth win on the Via Roma by Spanish riders. Freire owns two and Miguel Poblet the other two with wins in 1957 and 1959, respectively. There was another Spaniard in the top-10 in the form of Vicente Reynes of Caisse d’Epargne with ninth.
“I was in good position with 400-300 meters to go when McEwen tried to pass me on the left and it closed me off,” Reynes said. “I had to brake and as a result I couldn’t make the sprint as I wanted. It’s too bad because I felt really good and I believe I could have finished third or fourth on the Via Roma. Now I just have to forget it and think about the upcoming classics. I have big hopes for Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem and Roubaix, where I hope to be at the front with all the favorites.”
The race started in downtown Milan with a good-sized crowd of enthusiastic fans to cheer on Milan-San Remo’s centenary celebration. José Joaquín Rojas (Caisse d’Epargne), Thor Hushovd and Francesco Belloti (both Crédit Agricole) didn’t take the start, but some 197 riders did.
There were some early stabs at breakaways but finally six riders extracted themselves to mark the day’s main action. In the group were: Andrei Kunitski (Acqua e Sapone), Koen De Kort (astana), Emanuele Sella (Panaria-Navigare), Aitor Hernandez (Euskaltel), Roberto Traficante (LPR) and Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff).
Following a script typical of Milan-San Remo, the peloton enjoyed a Saturday morning siesta while the sextet chugged away, building up a lead of nearly eight minutes at 120km. Frédéric Guesdon (FDJ) and José Enrique Gutierrez (LPR) both crashed in the feed zone, but continued in the race.
The day’s main obstacle came on the Cat. 1 Passo di Turchino over a sharp spine of mountains that separates the Mediterranean Coast from the interior valley of northern Italy.
Sella led the way up the climb as the peloton remained at about seven minutes back. Three riders – Guennadi Mikhailov (Astana), Daniele Contrini (Tinkoff) and Marco Fertonani (Caisse d’Epargne) – crashed on the descent with the last two abandoning.
There was another crash involving Iban Mayoz (Euskaltel) and Paolo Longo Borghini (Barloworld) without serious consequence as the leaders – down to five after Traficante became unglued over the Tirchino – still held a considerable lead of more than seven minutes as it hit the Med coast. Rabobank, Liquigas and Milram led the peloton.
Lampre and Milram upped the pace and trimmed the lead to 3:24 at Alassio. Several riders crashed, including Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Axel Merckx (T-Mobile), as the peloton zeroed in on the breakaway.
At Capo Mele – one of the spectacular headlands that juts into the Mediterranean Sea – saw De Kort lose contact with the berakaway. Brutt and Sella were caught after sweeping down the Capo Cervo at 247km while Gerolsteiner suffered more crashes with, Heinrich Haussler, Fabian Wegmann and David Kopp all going down hard, with Kopp being transported away in an ambulance with a neck brace.
Marco Zanotti (Unibet.com) crashed coming through Imperia. The final three – Kunitski, Hernandez and Brutt – are swept up with about 30km to go.
Cipressa and Poggio
The Cipressa and Poggio presented the last chance for the head-bangers to spoil the chances for the sprinters.
First to try their luck were Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) and Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), but that move was quickly reeled in. About midway up the Cipressa, Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), fresh off a stage-win at Paris-Nice, darted away, quickly marked by Andrea Moletta (Gerolsteiner). Chasing too was Yaroslov Popovych (Discovery Channel), another stage-winner at Paris-Nice.
The trio held a slender lead over the summit and went snaking down the descent when Moletta misjudged a corner and skidded off the road, slamming his bike into a cement wall and light post. Moletta twisted and flipped into light post and was KO’d for the race.
Mirko Celestino (Milram) and Patxi Vila (Lampre) chased out of the main pack at 10 seconds with the main bunch at 18 seconds back on the flats heading toward the Poggio.
Quick Step-Innergetic with some help from Team CSC helped neutralize the Celestino/Vila move on the flats between the two climbs while Pellizotti and Popovych held a 28-second gap.
With 10km to go, Popovych was taking his last sip of water as CSC and Quick Step revved up the chase heading toward the base of the Poggio to snuff the move just as the peloton turned onto the final climb.
CSC’s Karsten Kroon and Quick Step’s Carlos Barredo led the way to reel in Popovych and Pellizotti when Gilbert, Riccò and Matthias Kessler (Astana) attacked. Popovych tried to hang on, but Riccò punched the accelerator once more to drop everyone except Gilbert.
Gilbert was following Ricco’s wheel with 3km to go with 10 seconds while world champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step-Innergetic) was leading the chase in the main pack on the serpentine descent.
The leading pair hit the flats coming into San Remo with a slender gap of seven seconds, but they were swarmed by the lead pack with just under two kilometers to go to set up the sprint.
Lampre and Milram were in good position, but it was Freire without the help of teammates who sprang away for the win.
The 98th Milan-San Remo
1. Oscar Freire (Rabobank)
2. Allan Davis (Discovery Channel)
3. Tom Boonen (Quick Step-Innergetic)
4. Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto)
5. Stuart O’Grady (CSC)
6. Erik Zabel (Milram)
7. Gabriele Balducci (Acqua e Sapone)
8. Alessandro Petacchi (Milram)
Results – 98th Milan-San Remo
1. Oscar Freire (Sp), Rabobank 294km in 6:43:59
2. Allan Davis (Aus), Discovery
3. Tom Boonen (B), Quickstep-Innergetic
4. Robbie McEwen (Aus), Predictor-Lotto
5. Stuart O'Grady (Aus), CSC
6. Erik Zabel (G), Milram
7. Gabriele Balducci (I), Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo
8. Alessandro Petacchi (I), Milram
9. Vicente Reynes (Sp), Caisse d'Epargne
10. Robert Hunter (RSA), Barloworld
11. Danilo Napolitano (I), Lampre-Fondital
12. Luca Paolini (I), Liquigas, at 0:01
13 Kim Kirchen (Lux), T-Mobile
14. Martin Elmiger (Swi), Ag2r Prévoyance
15. Cristian Moreni (I), Cofidis
16. Stefan Schumacher (G), Gerolsteiner
17. Jeremy Hunt (GB), Unibet.com
18. Manuele Mori (I), Saunier Duval-Prodir
19. Filippo Pozzato (I), Liquigas
20. William Bonnet (F), Crédit Agricole
21. Philippe Gilbert (B), Française Des Jeux
22. Julian Dean (NZl), Crédit Agricole
23. Vladimir Gusev (Rus), Discovery
24. Rene Mandri (Est), Ag2r Prévoyance
25. Pablo Lastras (Sp), Caisse d'Epargne
26. Daniele Bennati (I), Lampre-Fondital
27. Gerald Ciolek (G), T-Mobile
28. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr), Discovery
29. Fränk Schleck (Lux), CSC, at 0:02
30. Davide Rebellin (I), Gerolsteiner
31. Enrico Gasparotto (I), Liquigas
32. Gregory Rast (Swi), Astana
33. Paolo Bettini (I), Quickstep-Innergetic
34. Bernhard Eisel (A), T-Mobile, at 0:03
35. Renaud Dion (F), Ag2r Prévoyance
36. Tomas Vaitkus (Ltu), Discovery
37. Marco Velo (I), Milram
38. Riccardo Riccò (I), Saunier Duval-Prodir
39. Juan Antonio Flecha (Sp), Rabobank
40. Mario Aerts (B), Predictor-Lotto
41. Koldo Fernández (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi
42. Roger Hammond (GB), T-Mobile
43. René Haselbacher (A), Astana
44. Nick Nuyens (B), Cofidis, at 0:04
45. Luca Mazzanti (I), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare
46. Lorenzo Bernucci (I), T-Mobile
47. Stefano Garzelli (I), Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo, at 0:06
48. Fabio Sacchi (I), Milram, at 0:07
49. Arnaud Coyot (F), Unibet.com, at 0:13
50. Loyd Mondory (F), Ag2r Prévoyance
51. Imanol Erviti (Sp), Caisse d'Epargne, at 0:14
52. Max Van Heeswijk (Nl), Rabobank
53. Volodymyr Bileka (Ukr), Discovery
54. Luca Solari (I), LPR, at 0:15
55. Alessandro Ballan (I), Lampre-Fondital
56. Laurens Ten Dam (Nl), Unibet.com
57. Jesús Del Nero (Sp), Saunier Duval-Prodir, at 0:16
58. Karsten Kroon (Nl), CSC
59. Jérôme Pineau (F), Bouygues Telecom
60. Matti Breschel (Den), CSC
61. Thomas Lövkvist (Swe), Française Des Jeux, at
62. Claudio Corioni (I), Lampre-Fondital 0:17
63. Simone Masciarelli (I), Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo, at 0:18
64. Steve Cummings (GB), Discovery, at 0:21
65. Mirko Celestino (I), Milram, at
66. Thomas Voeckler (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 0:22
67. Ricardo Serrano (Sp), Tinkoff Credit Systems, at 0:23
68. Gorazd Stangelj (Slo), Lampre-Fondital
69. Patxi Vila (Sp), Lampre-Fondital
70. Ángel Gómez Gómez (Sp), Saunier Duval-Prodir
71. David Millar (GB), Saunier Duval-Prodir
72. Igor Astarloa (Sp), Milram
73. Kanstantsin Siutsou (Blr), Barloworld, at 0:29
74. Sergey Kolesnikov (Rus), Unibet.com
75. Vasil Kiryienka (Blr), Tinkoff Credit Systems, at 0:37
76. Matthias Kessler (G), Astana, at 0:40
77. Alberto Ongarato (I), Milram, at 1:14
78. Matteo Tosatto (I), Quickstep-Innergetic
79. Alexander Efimkin (Rus), Barloworld
80. Franco Pellizotti (I), Liquigas
81. Beñat Albizuri (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi
82. Francisco José Ventoso (Sp), Saunier Duval-Prodir, at 1:15
83. Aaron Kemps (Aus), Astana, at 1:23
84. Axel Merckx (B), T-Mobile
85. Carlos Barredo (Sp), Quickstep-Innergetic, at 1:41
86. Mathew Hayman (Aus), Rabobank, at 1:57
87. Johan Van Summeren (B), Predictor-Lotto, at 2:22
88. Björn Leukemans (B), Predictor-Lotto, at 2:38
89. Borut Bozic (Slo), LPR, at 3:14
90. Sébastien Rosseler (B), Quickstep-Innergetic, at 3:15
91. Giovanni Visconti (I), Quickstep-Innergetic, at 3:16
92. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (I), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare
93. Dario Cioni (I), Predictor-Lotto, at 3:45
94. Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun), Crédit Agricole, at 4:19
95. Alessandro Spezialetti (I), Liquigas, at 4:20
96. Salvatore Commesso (I), Tinkoff Credit Systems
97. Marcus Ljungqvist (Swe), CSC
98. Dario Andriotto (I), Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo
99. Eric Berthou (F), Caisse d'Epargne, at 4:21
100. Elio Aggiano (I), Tinkoff Credit Systems
101. Matthew White (Aus), Discovery, at 4:41
102. Sylvain Calzati (F), Ag2r Prévoyance
103. Emanuele Sella (I), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare, at 4:46
104. Roberto Petito (I), Liquigas, at 4:47
105. Fabio Baldato (I), Lampre-Fondital
106. Maurizio Bellin (I), LPR
107. Daniele Righi (I), Lampre-Fondital, at 4:48
108. Wim Vansevenant (B), Predictor-Lotto, at 4:49
109. Kevin Hulsmans (B), Quickstep-Innergetic, at 6:33
110. Fabian Cancellara (Swi), CSC
111. Maximiliano Richeze (Arg), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare, at 7:04
112. Gorik Gardeyn (B), Unibet.com, at 8:03
113. Aitor Hernández (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 9:37
114. Staf Scheirlinckx (B), Cofidis
115. Thomas Fothen (G), Gerolsteiner
116. Iban Mayoz (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi
117. Antonio Cruz (USA), Discovery
118. Guennadi Mikhailov (Rus), Astana
119. Christophe Laurent (F), Crédit Agricole
120. Anthony Geslin (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 9:38
121. Serguei Ivanov (Rus), Astana
122. Alexei Markov (Rus), Caisse d'Epargne
123. Pavel Brutt (Rus), Tinkoff Credit Systems
124. Mikhail Ignatiev (Rus), Tinkoff Credit Systems
125. Bert Grabsch (G), T-Mobile
126. Massimo Codol (I), Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo
127. Ignacio Gutierrez (Sp), LPR
128. Michal Golas (Pol), Unibet.com
129. Peter Wrolich (A), Gerolsteiner
130. Luke Roberts (Aus), CSC
131. Ryan Cox (RSA), Barloworld, at 9:39
132. Diego Caccia (I), Barloworld
133. Marco Marcato (I), LPR
134. Juan José Haedo (Arg), CSC
135. Manuel Quinziato (I), Liquigas
136. Pedro Horrillo (Sp), Rabobank
137. Fortunato Baliani (I), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare, at 9:40
138. Matteo Priamo (I), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare
139. Jimmy Casper (F), Unibet.com
140. Carlos Da Cruz (F), Française Des Jeux
141. Paolo Longo Borghini (I), Barloworld
142. Kevin Van Impe (B), Quickstep-Innergetic
143. Jan Boven (Nl), Rabobank, at 9:42
144. Franck Renier (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 14:14
145. Alexandre Pichot (F), Bouygues Telecom
146. Mathieu Perget (F), Caisse d'Epargne
147. Mathieu Heijboer (Nl), Cofidis
148. Rony Martias (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 14:15
149. Antton Luengo (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi
150. Aketza Peña (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi
151. Ludovic Auger (F), Française Des Jeux
152. Andrei Kunitski (Blr), Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo, at 14:16
153. Alessandro Donati (I), Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo
154. Sébastien Minard (F), Cofidis
155. Xavier Florencio (Sp), Bouygues Telecom, at 14:17
156. Yuriy Krivtsov (Ukr), Ag2r Prévoyance, at 18:04
157. Fabien Patanchon (F), Française Des Jeux, at 18:05
158. Kevin De Weert (B), Cofidis, at 19:13
159. Giuseppe Palumbo (I), Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo, at 19:36
160. Michiel Elijzen (Nl), Cofidis
ProTour Standings – After Milan-San Remo
1. Alberto Contador (Sp), Discovery 56points
2. Andreas Klöden (G), Astana 53
Oscar Freire (Sp), Rabobank 52
4. Davide Rebellin (I), Gerolsteiner 42
5. Kim Kirchen
(Lux), T-Mobile 41
6. Allan Davis (Aus), Discovery 40
7. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kz), Astana
8. Luis Sanchez (Sp), Caisse d'Epargne 38
9. Tom Boonen (B), Quick Step-Innergetic 37
10. Stefan Schumacher (G), Gerolsteiner 35
11. Robbie McEwen (Aus), Predictor-Lotto 33
12. Tadej Valjavec (Slo), Lampre 30
13. Franco Pellizotti (I), Liquigas 28
14. Stuart O'Grady (Aus), CSC
15. Janez Brajkovic (Slo), Discovery 25
16. David Lopez (Sp), Caisse d'Epargne 23
Zabel (G), Milram 20
18. Jens Voigt (G), CSC 20
19. Cadel Evans (AUS), Predictor-Lotto 15
20. Alessandro Petacchi (I), Milram 10