Petacchi streaks to victory in Milan-San Remo

[nid:30483]There is no longer an asterisk next to Alessandro Petacchi’s palmares. For the sprinter who’s dominated the speed game since his breakthrough 2000 season, Petacchi was being pegged as a man who couldn’t win a mass gallop in long-distance races. The naysayers only pointed to the 2004 Milan-San Remo and the 2003 Paris-Tours, two occasions when the “gentleman sprinter” died – or some say choked – at the line.

By Andrew Hood

Petacchi celebrates his biggest win to date

Petacchi celebrates his biggest win to date

Photo: AFP

Petacchi collects his first epic one-day classic

Petacchi collects his first epic one-day classic

Photo: Graham Watson

There is no longer an asterisk next to Alessandro Petacchi’s palmares.

For the sprinter who’s dominated the speed game since his breakthrough 2000 season, Petacchi was being pegged as a man who couldn’t win a mass gallop in long-distance races. The naysayers only pointed to the 2004 Milan-San Remo and the 2003 Paris-Tours, two occasions when the “gentleman sprinter” died – or some say choked – at the line.

But on Saturday, Fassa Bortolo’s fast man exorcised those demons with a powerful sprint down the Via Roma to notch an emotional victory and add the “Classicissima” to his already prodigious list of wins.

“I’m sick of the press and the other riders who talk about me, but you saw today I won by two or three bike lengths,” said Petacchi, who relegated German Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) to second place with Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) coming through third.

Petacchi held off a superstar field of cycling’s marquee sprinters, leaving archrivals Mario Cipollini, Oscar Freire, Tom Boonen, Stuart O’Grady and Erik Zabel choking on his fumes.

Petacchi and his podium-mates

Petacchi and his podium-mates

Photo: Graham Watson

“There have been a lot of people criticizing me that I couldn’t be competitive at this distance, but today I have shown them – basta,” he said after covering the 294km course in 7 hours, 11 minutes, 39 seconds.

The win made it an even dozen for Petacchi on the season and pushed him into the ProTour race leader’s jersey ahead of defending MSR champion Freire.

“I arrived here in great condition,” Petacchi continued. “I changed a few things in my preparation, not because of the criticism, but to improve as a bike racer. To win San Remo I knew I needed to be a little bit stronger, so I lost a little weight.”

Down the Via Roma

The 96th Milan-San Remo unfolded much like most years (see below), with an early break, crashes, futile attacks on the Cipressa and Poggio and climaxing with the inevitable sprint.

Freire and Petacchi were the five-star favorites in La Gazzetta dello Sport, but Petacchi was head and shoulders above his Spanish rival when it counted.

Freire was fresh off three stage wins and overall victory at Tirreno-Adriatico, the traditional Milan-San Remo primer, and it appeared as luck was once again shining on the happy-go-lucky Spanish world champ.

“Things were great until the final 500 meters,” said Freire, who settled on fifth. “I had great legs today, but I was boxed off in my sprint by a Gerolsteiner rider and Boonen. It’s too bad because I had the legs to win the race.”

All that changed in the final charge to the line when Bettini made an erratic move to set up Boonen as he veered way left off the front of the bunch, hoping to throw Petacchi off his game. Instead, it torpedoed the chances of both Freire and Boonen, the man Bettini was trying to help.

“I wanted to force Petacchi to make a long sprint, because that’s when the others have a chance to get around him,” Bettini said.

Instead, Petacchi smartly followed Bettini’s wheel and then launched his own sprint with 200 meters to go, a distance from which he’s almost unbeatable.

“The strongest rider won today, that was obvious,” said a disappointed Boonen, who took eighth. “I lost Petacchi’s wheel when he followed Bettini’s move and some other riders moved in front of me and I was boxed in. It was too bad because I was hoping for big things today.”

It was a disorganized, frenetic charge to the line, with the peloton spread 10 riders across on the Via Roma. Petacchi jumped off Bettini’s wheel, looked over his shoulder once, and punched the accelerator. Leading the scrum for the leftovers was Hondo, the charismatic German rider also in search of a major breakthrough victory.

“I was on the outside on the left and I was a little long in the wind and I just couldn’t catch Petacchi’s wheel,” said Hondo, who matched his career best in a classic with second to go along with his runner-up finish at Paris-Tours.

Rodriguez was still feeling the effects of his Paris-Nice crash

Rodriguez was still feeling the effects of his Paris-Nice crash

Photo: Graham Watson

“Second place is one of the biggest results of my career, so I have to be satisfied, but of course you want to win,” Hondo continued. “But Petacchi came to the race in good condition and his team was very strong, so it was difficult to beat him.”

Fred Rodriguez (Davitamon-Lotto) was looking good with the lead group over the Cipressa , but inside he was hurting. The three-time American champion was still nursing injuries from a hard crash in Paris-Nice last week and couldn’t ride at full strength over the final decisive kilometers.

“I messed up my leg from the problems I had at Paris-Nice, so in the last 20km it was like I was riding with one leg. That’s just asking for a miracle,” said Rodriguez, who finished 48th at nine seconds back. “I just couldn’t push my leg. I got gapped on the downhill and just couldn’t get back on.”

In the battle of the sprinters, Mario Cipollini put up the good fight but slipped across the line rather anonymously in 36th. The Lion King won down the Via Roma three years ago, but couldn’t rediscover the magic in what will be his last crack at Italy’s most endearing race.

“This is my last time here as a rider, so how can I not be a little bit emotional? I lost Petacchi’s wheel and then I was out of position to make a strong sprint,” said the Lion King, who turns 38 on Tuesday. “This is not my last race as a rider and now my focus moves to the Giro, where I hope to give my fans a farewell gift or two.”

Poggio fails to derail Fassa train

Fassa on the hunt

Fassa on the hunt

Photo: Graham Watson

Petacchi went to bed Friday night having nightmares about the Cipressa and Poggio. All winter long, Petacchi’s been getting it in the Italian press, which has been saying he couldn’t win a sprint after a distance topping 250km. After his infamous meltdown on the Via Roma last year, Petacchi didn’t want history repeating itself.

“I am sick of those critics,” said Petacchi, who shed 3 kilos off his fighting weight. “I learned from my mistakes last year, and I lost weight over the winter. Last year I spent too much energy getting over the Cipressa and Poggio.”

Fassa Bortolo proved it was up to the task of protecting Petacchi and set a torrid pace up the Poggio. All nine riders made it over the Cipressa and were breathing down the neck of Bettini and Andrey Kashechkin (Crédit Agricole), who slipped away on the descent off the Cipressa and were nursing a 15-second head start at the base of the Poggio.

“If we had 30 to 40 seconds at the Poggio, I would have tried to give everything to try to win, but it was obvious we weren’t going to make it,” said Bettini, who sprung to victory in 2003 with an attack on the climb. “After that, I wanted to save my strength to help (Tom) Boonen in the sprint.”

Bettini’s salvo wasn’t going to work and Angel Vicioso (Liberty Seguros) shot out, quickly bridging to Bettini and briefly holding the lead up the climb. Paolo Tiralongo (Panaria) also tried, but it wasn’t until Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) sprang ahead with 7km to go that the lead group was truly put under pressure.

Hot on his wheel were Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas-Bianchi), Axel Merckx (Davitamon-Lotto) with Kim Kirchen covering the move for Fassa. Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears) shot across near the summit and the leaders ripped down the short descent with the Via Roma in sight nursing a 12-second lead.

The move had promise, but Rabobank’s Erik Dekker did journeyman work to help bring back the break 2km to go.

“We didn’t take too many risks coming down the Poggio, which is a very dangerous descent,” said Merckx, whose father won Milan-San Remo a record seven times. “We went to the maximum, but it wasn’t possible to hold off the bunch. It was a good race and we were at the front, but Fassa Bortolo was too strong.”

Laurent Brochard (Bouygues Telecom) and Philippe Gilbert (FDJeux) each tried to slip away in the final run toward Via Roma, but nothing was going to stop Petacchi.

Valverde, meanwhile, slipped across the line bitterly in 33rd without trying to challenge the sprint. The Spanish sensation took an important stage win last week in the Paris-Nice finale, but admits Milan-San Remo might not be a race of his liking.

“This isn’t a good race for me,” Valverde admitted. “I might not come here again to race with the idea of winning because I know I will never be able to beat the pure sprinters like this. The Ardennes classics are better suited for me.”

Early move, a crash and the Cipressa

Huge crowds turned out to witness the 96th Milan-San Remo and crowds pushed in on the riders for the sign-in ceremony in sunny Milan. George Hincapie (Discovery Channel), Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) and Ivan Fanelli (LPR) didn’t take the start as 195 riders rolled south out of town.

Part of the tradition of Milan-San Remo is the early breakaway and this year was no exception. Filippo Simeoni (Naturino-Sapore di Mare), Jimmy Casper (Cofidis), Isasi Flores (Euskaltel), Daniele Righi (Lampre-Caffita) and Mauro Santambrogio (LPR) extracted themselves at 33km.

Casagrande and Zaballa have a go

Casagrande and Zaballa have a go

Photo: Graham Watson

The quintet built up a lead of 17:40 with 62km, but the peloton started to slowly chip away at the lead. At the race’s high point at Passo del Turchino (143km) the lead was narrowed to 13:45 and the race pushed toward the Mediterranean Sea.

Rabobank, Liberty Seguros and Gerolsteiner collaborated to trim the margin to 8:38 as the race rolled past Noli, and it was all just a matter of time.

Just as the main bunch was barreling down on the Capo Cervo, Andrea Tafi (Saunier Duval) tried to bridge out, but the aging warrior wasn’t getting too far away from the hard-charging group, led by Fassa Bortolo and Cofidis. Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt (Liquigas-Bianchi) was lending a hand as the group came together with about 50km to go. Andrea Peron (CSC) crashed hard and abandoned.

With 35km to go, someone clipped tires in the main bunch, causing riders to fall like dominos in the middle of the pack. Among those going down hard were Marco Milesi (Liquigas-Bianchi), Italian national champion Cristian Moreni (Quick Step), Leif Host (Discovery Channel) and Bernhard Eisel (FDJeux). The fall split the main bunch, with about 30 riders being caught up behind.

The course hit the Cipressa and making the first salvo was Luca Mazzanti (Panaria) with Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) giving chase.

The main bunch led by Liberty Seguros and Rabobank set a blistering chase, but several others tried in vain, with Francesco Casagrande (Naturino-Sapore di Mare) and Paolo Tiralongo (Panaria) making a run.

Just as they were reeled in, Emmanuele Sella (Panaria) took a stab before Fassa Bortolo moved to the front to smother the moves. According to commentators on Italy’s RAI TV, the climb up the Cipressa was the fastest in San Remo history.

Mirko Celestino (Domina Vacanze) put down one of his trademark attacks coming down the Cipressa, but it was Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) who took profit on the twisting descent. Catching the Cricket’s wheel was Andrey Kashechkin (Credit Agricole) and the pair hit the bottom of the climb looking very pretty indeed, but there was no stopping Petacchi on this day.

Race note: Flu KO’s Hincapie
George Hincapie was a surprise non-starter Saturday morning after the Discovery Channel captain came down with a sudden bout of the flu.

“It was more of a chest cold. I had a slight temperature and I was feeling weak and achy all over. So it we decided it was better not to take the start, or it could get worse with Belgium coming up,” Hincapie said as he watched the race from the team hotel in San Remo.

After finishing a strong sixth overall in Tirreno-Adriatico, Hincapie spent the remainder of the week at Cesenatico training ahead of La Primavera.

“It’s just a bummer. I am riding really strong now and I was feeling super-good at Tirreno, better than I’ve ever been at this time of year,” he said. “I was really looking forward to Milan-San Remo, I was feeling better every day. I wanted a good ride today.”

Hincapie will head home to Girona, Spain, for his final preparations ahead of the spring classics. With his impressive victory at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in February, Hincapie will be one of the favorites at Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

He’ll race either E3 Prijs Vlaanderen on March 26 or Brabantse Pijl on March 27 before the Driedaagse van De Panne on March 29-31 ahead of Tour of Flanders on April 3.

FULLRESULTS ARE NOW POSTED To see how the action developed, just open our live-update window.

Photo Gallery


Results 96th Milan San Remo – March 19, 2005

1. Alessandro Petacchi (I), Fassa Bortolo, 294km in 7:11:39 (40.87kph)

2. Danilo Hondo (G), Gerolsteiner

3. Thor Hushovd (Nor), Credit Agricole

4. Stuart O'Grady (Aus), Cofidis

5. Oscar Freire Gomez (Sp), Rabobank

6. Philippe Gilbert (B), Française Des Jeux

7. Ruggero Marzoli (I), Acqua e Sapone

8. Tom Boonen (B), QuickStep

9. Franco Pellizotti (I), Liquigas-Bianchi

10. Manuele Mori (I), Saunier Duval

11. Vicente Reynes Mimo (Sp), Illes Balears

12. Josu Silloniz Aresti (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi

13. Laurent Brochard (F), Bouygues Telecom

14. Erik Zabel (G), T-Mobile

15. Allan Davis (Aus), Liberty Seguros

16. Leon Van Bon (Nl), Davitamon-Lotto

17. Mirko Celestino (I), Domina Vacanze

18. Andreas Klier (G), T-Mobile

19. Fabrizio Guidi (I), Phonak

20. Angel Edo (Sp), Saunier Duval

21. Roger Hammond (GB), Discovery Channel

22. Anthony Geslin (F), Bouygues Telecom

23. Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor), CSC

24. Peter Wrolich (A), Gerolsteiner

25. Emanuele Sella (I), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare

26. Vladimir Gusev (Rus), CSC

27. Danilo Di Luca (I), Liquigas-Bianchi

28. Daniele Bennati (I), Lampre-Caffita

29. Axel Merckx (B), Davitamon-Lotto

30. Davide Rebellin (I), Gerolsteiner

31. Frank Schleck (Lux), CSC

32. Luca Mazzanti (I), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare

33. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Sp), Illes Balears

34. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), T-Mobile

35. Steffen Wesemann (G), T-Mobile

36. Mario Cipollini (I), Liquigas-Bianchi

37. Francesco Casagrande (I), Naturino-Sapore di Mare

38. Giuliano Figueras (I), Lampre-Caffita

39. Gabriele Colombo (I), Naturino-Sapore di Mare, all s.t.

40. Kim Kirchen (Lux), Fassa Bortolo, at 0:05

41. Erik Dekker (Nl), Rabobank, at 0:06

42. Paolo Bettini (I), QuickStep, at 0:07

43. Fabio Sacchi (I), Fassa Bortolo, at 0:09

44. Marco Velo (I), Fassa Bortolo

45. Christophe Le Mevel (F), Credit Agricole

46. Nicolas Jalabert (F), Phonak

47. Oscar Pereiro Sio (Sp), Phonak

48. Fred Rodriguez (USA), Davitamon-Lotto

49. Matthias Kessler (G), T-Mobile

50. Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz), Credit Agricole

51. Giampaolo Caruso (I), Liberty Seguros, all s.t.

52. Alessandro Ballan (I), Lampre-Caffita, at 0:12

53. David Herrero Llorente (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 0:38

54. Pedro Horrillo Munoz (Sp), Rabobank

55. Bram Tankink (Nl), QuickStep

56. Frédéric Guesdon (F), Française Des Jeux

57. Paolo Tiralongo (I), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare

58. Francisco J. Ventoso Alberdi (Sp), Saunier Duval, all s.t.

59. Salvatore Commesso (I), Lampre-Caffita, at 1:05

60. Stijn Devolder (B), Discovery Channel

61. Matteo Tosatto (I), Fassa Bortolo

62. Rolf Aldag (G), T-Mobile

63. Angel Vicioso Arcos (Sp), Liberty Seguros

64. Sébastien Hinault (F), Credit Agricole

65. Bradley Mcgee (Aus), Française Des Jeux

66. Guido Trenti (USA), QuickStep

67. Jörg Jaksche (G), Liberty Seguros

68. Giovanni Lombardi (I), CSC, all s.t.

69. Mario Aerts (B), Davitamon-Lotto, at 2:29

70. Matej Mugerli (Slo), Liquigas-Bianchi

71. Maarten Den Bakker (Nl), Rabobank

72. Elio Aggiano (I), Team LPR, all s.t.

73. Thomas Voeckler (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 4:15

74. Joerg Ludewig (G), Domina Vacanze

75. Grégory Rast (Swi), Phonak

76. Giuseppe Palumbo (I), Acqua e Sapone

77. Guennadi Mikhailov (Rus), Discovery Channel

78. Wim Vansevenant (B), Davitamon-Lotto

79. Roberto Petito (I), Fassa Bortolo

80. Fabio Baldato (I), Fassa Bortolo

81. Bo Hamburger (Dk), Acqua e Sapone

82. David Lopez Garcia (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi

83. Jan Boven (Nl), Rabobank

84. Matthew White (Aus), Cofidis

85. Johan Van Summeren (B), Davitamon-Lotto

86. Luca Ascani (I), Naturino-Sapore di Mare, all s.t.

87. Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun), Credit Agricole, at 7:13

88. Bradley Wiggins (GB), Credit Agricole

89. Michael Barry (Can), Discovery Channel

90. Hayden Roulston (NZ), Discovery Channel

91. Baden Cooke (Aus), Française Des Jeux

92. Guillermo Ruben Bongiorno (Arg), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare

93. Cédric Vasseur (F), Cofidis

94. Ludovic Auger (F), Française Des Jeux

95. Nico Mattan (B), Davitamon-Lotto

96. Julian Dean (NZ), Credit Agricole

97. Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz), Domina Vacanze

98. Mirko Allegrini (I), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare

99. Fabian Wegmann (G), Gerolsteiner

100. Alessandro Cortinovis (I), Domina Vacanze

101. Bert Grabsch (G), Phonak

102. Joan Horrach Rippoll (Sp), Illes Balears

103. Gian Matteo Fagnini (I), Naturino-Sapore di Mare

104. Franck Renier (F), Bouygues Telecom

105. Dario Andriotto (I), Liquigas-Bianchi

106. Matteo Carrara (I), Barloworld

107. Marcus Zberg (Swi), Gerolsteiner

108. Inigo Landaluze Intxaurraga (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi

109. Andrea Moletta (I), Gerolsteiner

110. Daniele Contrini (I), Team LPR

111. Jure Golcer (Slo), Acqua e Sapone

112. Valerio Agnoli (I), Naturino-Sapore di Mare

113. Karsten Kroon (Nl), Rabobank

114. René Haselbacher (A), Gerolsteiner

115. Dmitri Konyshev (Rus), Team LPR, all s.t.

116. Aurélien Clerc (Swi), Phonak, at 10:28

117. Marco Pinotti (I), Saunier Duval

118. Sergio Marinangeli (I), Naturino-Sapore di Mare

119. Matti Breschel (Dk), CSC

120. Constantin Zaballa Gutierrez (Sp), Saunier Duval

121. Mark Renshaw (Aus), Française Des Jeux

122. Alessio Galletti (I), Naturino-Sapore di Mare

123. Davide Bramati (I), QuickStep, all s.t.

124. Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Sp), Liberty Seguros, at 12:30

125. Jimmy Casper (F), Cofidis, s.t.

126. José Luis Arrieta Lujambio (Sp), Illes Balears, at 13:40

127. Mikel Pradera Rodriguez (Sp), Illes Balears

128. Aitor Galdos Alonso (Sp), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare

129. Pedro Arreitunandia (Sp), Barloworld

130. Gabriele Balducci (I), Acqua e Sapone

131. Simone Masciarelli (I), Acqua e Sapone

132. Marc Wauters (B), Rabobank

133. Michele Scarponi (I), Liberty Seguros

134. Manuel Quinziato (I), Saunier Duval

135. Jens Voigt (G), CSC

136. David George (RSA), Barloworld

137. Gianluca Bortolami (I), Lampre-Caffita

138. Mauro Gerosa (I), Liquigas-Bianchi

139. Ivan Ravaioli (I), Saunier Duval

140. Maryan Hary (F), Bouygues Telecom

141. Sergiy Matveyev (Ukr), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare

142. Paolo Longo Borghini (I), Barloworld

143. Daniele De Paoli (I), Team LPR

144. Kevin Hulsmans (B), QuickStep, all s.t.

145. Simone Cadamuro (I), Domina Vacanze, at 18:00

146. Eddy Serri (I), Barloworld

147. Paolo Fornaciari (I), Lampre-Caffita

148. Giosuè Bonomi (I), Lampre-Caffita

149. Serguei Ivanov (Rus), T-Mobile

150. Ruslan Ivanov (Mda), Domina Vacanze

151. Michele Gobbi (I), Domina Vacanze

152. Antonio Bucciero (I), Acqua e Sapone

153. Matthew Wilson (Aus), Française Des Jeux

154. Mikhaylo Khalilov (Ukr), Team LPR

155. Giovanni Bernaudeau (F), Bouygues Telecom

156. Aitor Gonzalez Jimenez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi

157. Roberto Laiseka Jaio (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi

158. Jose Luis Carrasco Gamiz (Sp), Illes Balears

159. Inaki Isasi Flores (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi

160. Imanol Erviti (Sp), Illes Balears

161. Nicolas Inaudi (F), Cofidis

162. Nick Nuyens (B), QuickStep

163. Domenico Pozzovivo (I), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare

164. Jans Koerts (Nl), Cofidis

165. Sergio Miguel M. Paulinho (Por), Liberty Seguros, all s.t.

Did not finish

Gerben Löwik (Nl), Rabobank

Kyrylo Pospyeyev (Ukr), Acqua e Sapone

Enrico Degano (I), Barloworld

Antonio Salomone (I), Barloworld

Giulio Tomi (I), Barloworld

Mathieu Claude (F), Bouygues Telecom

Jérome Pineau (F), Bouygues Telecom

Leonardo Bertagnolli (I), Cofidis

Arnaud Coyot (F), Cofidis

Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz), Crédit Agricole

Leif Hoste (B), Discovery Channel

Pavel Padrnos (Cz), Discovery Channel

Serhiy Honchar (Ukr), Domina Vacanze

Alberto Ongarato (I), Fassa Bortolo

Bernhard Eisel (A), Française Des Jeux

Sebastian Lang (G), Gerolsteiner

Unai Osa Eizaguirre (Sp), Illes Balears

Daniele Righi (I), Lampre-Caffita

Aaron Kemps (Aus), Liberty Seguros

Magnus Backstedt (Swe), Liquigas-Bianchi

Marco Milesi (I), Liquigas-Bianchi

Mauro Santambrogio (I), Team LPR

Filippo Simeoni (I), Naturino-Sapore di Mare

Martin Elmiger (Swi), Phonak

Robert Hunter (RSA), Phonak

Cristian Moreni (I), QuickStep

Andrea Tafi (I), Saunier Duval

Andrea Peron (I), CSC

Allan Johansen (Dk), CSC

Stephan Schreck (G), T-Mobile

Did Not Start

Robbie Mcewen (Aus), Davitamon-Lotto

George Hincapie (USA), Discovery Channel

Ivan Fanelli (I), Team LPR