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By Andrew Hood
Herr San-Remo, aka Erik Zabel, says he’s ready for the race he’s won four times since 1997. Zabel, 31, told La Gazzetta dello Sport he thinks he can win again despite winning just the opening stage at Tirreno-Adriatico. “I’ve already ridden 5000 kilometers this season and I feel strong. I felt strong in the climbs at Tirreno, and although I didn’t win a stage [after the first day], I just lost to Bettini and Cipollini in sprints, but I was close.” Zabel is one of 200 riders from 25 teams lining up for the 93rd Milan-San Remo. Zabel called Milan-San Remo the “the world’s of the spring” and said, “I love this course and it’s been part of my fate for so many years. This year the battle is wide open.” … If Zabel gets win No. 5, he will still rank behind Eddy Merckx, with seven, and Costante Giradengo, with six. … Eight Americans are scheduled to start (nine if you count Guidi Trenti of Acqua e Sapone): Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, David Clinger, Floyd Landis and Christian Vande Velde, all of U.S. Postal; Bobby Julich, Telekom; Fred Rodriguez, Domo; and Tyler Hamilton, CSC-Tiscali. … Marco Pantani is scheduled to start for Mercatone Uno. The Pirate recently returned from Spain where he was training with five teammates. Following Milan-San Remo, Pantani is scheduled to race at Criterium International, Flèche Wallone, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Giro de Trentino. … Pre-race favorite Mario Cipollini celebrated his 35th birthday by refusing all requests for pre-race interviews. The Lion King has finished second at “La Classicissima” — in 1994 and 2001. He told La Gazzetta earlier in the week that “Zabel is the favorite, even though he doesn’t look as strong as previous years.” … The last Italian to win Milan-San Remo was Gabriele Colombo in 1996. … Also featured Saturday will be the third round of the women’s World Cup, the fourth-annual Primavera Rosa. The course picks up the men’s route along the Mediterranean Coast, 110km from Varazze to San Remo. … For the second year in a row, the 287km Milan-San Remo course will not feature the difficult climb up the Turchino Pass about midway through the race. The descent was wiped out by a landslide in 2001 and repairs to the road were not ready in time for this year’s race. Instead, the course climbs over the Bric Berton, climbing to 773 meters at 143km into the course. The Cipressa climb, at 240 meters at the 265km mark, was added in 1982. The Poggio, the final climb of the race at 162 meters at the 281km mark, features a harrowing descent and has been a deciding factor in the race since it was added in 1960. The fight to be at the front up the Poggio is always the highlight of Milan-San Remo.