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Friday’s EuroFile: Milan-San Remo awaits; Zabirova eyes hat trick in Primavera Rosa; Bouyer denied

World champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank) will saddle up for Milan-San Remo on Saturday as perhaps the smartest bet for victory after the 29-year-old won three stages at Tirreno-Adriatico last week on his way to taking the overall honors. In a race where those who took part were guaranteed long, uninterrupted days of racing, unlike at Paris-Nice, Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) also showed his form, beating the likes of Freire, Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis), Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) and Norway's Thor Hushovd on his way to matching Freire's stage tally of

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By Agence France Presse, and staff reports

Unlike Zabel, Freire saved his celebration for after the finish

Unlike Zabel, Freire saved his celebration for after the finish

Photo: Graham Watson (file photo)

World champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank) will saddle up for Milan-San Remo on Saturday as perhaps the smartest bet for victory after the 29-year-old won three stages at Tirreno-Adriatico last week on his way to taking the overall honors.

In a race where those who took part were guaranteed long, uninterrupted days of racing, unlike at Paris-Nice, Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) also showed his form, beating the likes of Freire, Stuart O’Grady (Cofidis), Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) and Norway’s Thor Hushovd on his way to matching Freire’s stage tally of three.

As for O’Grady, his third-place finish last year – when speedy Spaniard Freire surprised German great Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) at the line – has put him firmly among the contenders for victory in the third race on the new 27-leg ProTour schedule.

The 31-year-old from Adelaide is finally reaching maturity in the tough one-day races, whose distances can reach almost 300km. His podium finish in 2004 was ample proof of that progress. And having won his first World Cup race last year, the HEW Cyclassics in Germany, O’Grady says he feels more confident as the years roll on.

“After 10 years in the pro peloton it just comes down to experience and strength,” he told AFP on Thursday. “You don’t realize it, it just happens but it’s also got to do with confidence and attitude.

“There’s a big difference between racing a 200km stage in a race and riding a one-day classic like Milan-San Remo. I’m definitely (feeling) better after 200km of racing, I seem to handle the distance better. I’m not necessarily getting any faster, it’s just that the other guys might not be as fast as you.”

O’Grady’s result last year was a big step, but Saturday will tell him exactly where his early season form is.

Milan-San Remo has been won by cycling legends like Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx, so it’s no surprise O’Grady won’t be alone in trying to add his name to the honors list.

Another Aussie aiming for the top step of the podium is McEwen, who will spearhead Davitamon-Lotto’s bid for victory two years after his best finish of fourth.

McEwen didn’t finish Tirreno-Adriatico after a crash on the final stage, but the Aussie has never let bruises put him off when he is determined enough.

“Last year in the Tour I got over the Alps, the Massif Central, and the Pyrenees with a broken back and scraped buttocks. So I should be able to ride from Milan to San Remo, shouldn’t I?” he told Het Nieuwsblad in Belgium.

The race almost always ends in a bunch sprint, but that doesn’t mean its two main climbs, the Cipressa (at 272.4km) and the Poggio (at 288.4km) are easy to negotiate.

Both are usually raced at furious speeds, and Spaniard Angel Vicioso, who will spearhead the Liberty-Seguros team’s bid along with Australian sprinter Allan Davis, explained: “You need to get over the Cipressa and the Poggio at the front of the bunch if you have any chance of winning.”

Still, O’Grady, who has just recovered from a stomach bug that hit him on the hardest day in the Italian race last week, feels that a few contenders might try to upset the sprinters’ plans.

“I honestly think a few guys like (Alejandro) Valverde or (Danilo) Di Luca will try to attack on the Poggio,” said the Australian, who also feels that Zabel and fellow veteran Mario Cipollini (Liquigas-Bianchi) will be out of the running.

“Team-wise, Rabobank (Freire) and Quick Step (Tom Boonen) are very strong. I don’t think the likes of Zabel or Cipollini will be up there. Zabel’s been great in the race in the past, but he’s only human and after so many years I don’t think he is a big favorite.”

For a complete start list, click here. Then tune into VeloNews.com on Saturday for live coverage of Milan-San Remo, followed by a full report from European correspondent Andrew Hood and photos from Graham Watson.

Zabirova out for hat trick in Primavera Rosa
Russian Zoulfia Zabirova will strive for a third consecutive victory in Saturday’s Primavera Rosa, the third round of the women’s World Cup.

The course follows the last 118km of the men’s Milan-San Remo, with the ascent of the Poggio as the final springboard. Twenty-four teams with 144 riders will take the start.

Zabirova, riding for the Swiss team Bigla, will face the usual adversaries: Dutchwoman Mirjam Melchers and Sweden’s Susanne Ljungskog (Buttenpoort); Australian Oenone Wood and Germans Judith Arndt and Regina Schleicher (Nürnberger); Australian Rochelle Gilmore and Briton Nicole Cooke (Safi); and Dutchwoman Chantal Beltman (Vrienden).

Gilmore won the World Cup opener in Geelon, Australia. Dutchwoman Suzanne De Goede (Ton Van Bemmelen) took round two in Wellington, New Zealand.

Recent winners
1999: Sara Felloni (I)
2000: Diana Ziliute (Lit)
2001: Susanne Ljungskog (Swe)
2002: Mirjam Melchers (Ned)
2003: Zoulfia Zabirova (Rus)
2004: Zoulfia Zabirova (Rus)

2004 results
1. Zabirova (Rus)
2. Melchers, at 0:26
3. Oenone Wood (Aus), at 0:29
4. Regina Schleicher (G, same time
5. Anita Valen (Nor), s.t.

Bouyer loses bid for anti-narcolepsy drug
French cyclist Franck Bouyer (Bouygues Telecom), who suffers from narcolepsy – a condition in which the sufferer can suddenly fall asleep – saw his request to take a drug to treat the condition rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Friday.

As Bouyer had not received clearance by the UCI or the World Anti-Doping Agency to use the medicine – which contains modafinil, a substance on the banned list – he decided to take up the issue with CAS. Bouyer has not raced since last May.

CAS said the rider had not managed to prove that the use of the medicine would not improve his performance and it was up to him to show that.

CAS added in their statement that Bouyer could make a new request to the UCI.

Lefevere new president of AIGCP
Patrick Lefevere, manager of Quick Step, will take over from Manolo Saiz at the directorship of the AIGCP. The 20 ProTour teams also have formed their “sociedad de capital” to watch out for their appropriate interests. –VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood contributed to this report.