By Andrew Hood
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.
“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.
“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
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.
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.
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