By Andrew Hood
Tom Boonen says Quick Step teammate Paolo Bettini enters Saturday’s Milan-San Remo as the leader, but didn’t discount his chances if it comes down to a sprint on the Via Roma.
“The past two times I’ve raced here I lost a lot on the Poggio, losing my position. The key will be at the front,” Boonen said in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport on the eve of the classic kickoff. “I’m sure I will be able to hang on going over the Cipressa and the Poggio.”
Boonen downplayed the hint of rivalry between himself and Olympic champion Bettini, who enters La Primavera after struggling with an early-season bout of the flu while Boonen is coming off two stage wins in last week’s Paris-Nice.
“For me there’s no problem, we will work for the rider who’s strongest on the day,” said Boonen. “In the final, it will be either me or Paolo. We want to be good one for the other.”
Cipo wants another win on Via Roma
Mario Cipollini is expecting the “Classicissima” to end in a sprint, and the Lion King is hopeful he’ll have the legs to score victory down the Via Roma to complement his 2002 win.
“I believe that this year there will be a final sprint since sprinters go well even on the climb and their teams are well-trained,” Cipollini said. “I feel very good. I know that some opponents such as (Oscar) Freire, (Alessandro) Petacchi and (Tom) Boonen are in fine (form). After almost 300 kilometers, the capacity to hold out and experience could be the difference.”
Il Cipolla is hoping to rediscover the winning legs that carried him to victory in 2002, his banner season, which also included the world title and tying the record of stage wins in the Giro d’Italia.
“I have recovered from Tirreno-Adriatico and I feel content, ready to do things at the best,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “I’m not sure what to expect, but I think I will be able to get over the Cipressa and the Poggio to fight for the sprint if it comes down to that.”
Liquigas-Bianchi will also play wildcards Danilo Di Luca and Franco Pellizotti to try to get away coming over the Cipressa and the Poggio.
Furor over the rainbow jersey
Defending Milan-San Remo champion Oscar Freire is seeing red after being forced to trade his rainbow jersey for the white ProTour jersey for Saturday’s Milan-San Remo.
The UCI is forcing the three-time world champion to wear the ProTour leader’s jersey, though Freire would prefer to wear the rainbow jersey.
“No one knows what the ProTour jersey is, and the rainbow jersey has a lot more prestige,” Freire told the Spanish daily AS.
Freire grabbed the ProTour lead after winning three stages en route to the overall title at Tirreno-Adriatico last week. According to new rules, the ProTour leader’s jersey take precedence over the rainbow jersey, but everyone is trying to find a compromise and allow some evidence of the rainbow stripes to be seen on Freire’s jersey.
Vittorio Adorni, chairman of the professional cycling council, insisted Freire will wear the ProTour jersey, but said a compromise will be devised for future races.
Freire, meanwhile, also believes Milan-San Remo will conclude with a mass gallop, but added he doesn’t believe Spanish phenomenon Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears) is strong enough to score the upset.
“I’m sure it’s going to finish in a sprint because Petacchi is very strong and his team will control the stage. The key will be to be in good position over the Poggio and have strength to make the sprint,” Freire said.
“Valverde is very strong, but I don’t believe strong enough to win Milan-San Remo. I’m sure he’ll try on the Poggio or the Cipressa, but this is the first time he’s facing the race with the idea of winning and I’m not sure he knows the right moment to win.”
Hincapie, Hammond lead Discovery
With an off-form Max Van Heeswijk skipping Milan-San Remo, George Hincapie and Roger Hammond will carry the hopes of Discovery Channel in the season’s first classic.
Hammond, third in last year’s Paris-Roubaix, will make his MSR debut, while Hincapie was 13th last year behind Van Heeswijk’s fifth. While Milan-San Remo is not Hincapie’s preferred hunting ground – that comes next month on cobbles – he did finish ninth in 2001.
Discovery Channel for Milan-San Remo: Michael Barry, Stijn Devolder, Roger Hammond, George Hincapie, Leif Hoste, Guennadi Mikhailov, Pavel Padrnos and Hayden Roulston.
Davis accepts outsider role
Aussie sprinter Allan Davis knows he’s not among the five-star favorites, but the Liberty Seguros sprinter says he’s coming into Milan-San Remo feeling strong. Davis skipped both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, but is coming off two wins at the Tour of Murcia earlier this month.
He’ll share leadership duties with Angel Vicioso and said the team could upset the favorites.
“The first thing is that I don’t have the pressure like others as Rabobank with Freire, Fassa with Petacchi, Telekom with Zabel and Quick Step with Boonen and Bettini. That’s good for us, because it takes responsibility from us,” Davis said.
“Besides, I believe that we have a brilliant team, because Angel Vicioso is also very well, as is Caruso, and that gives us other options besides mine. We are in a nice situation to surprise the favorites, Freire and Petacchi.”
T-Mobile doesn’t want pressure
Despite having four-time champion Erik Zabel at the start line, T-Mobile doesn’t want to be tagged as favorites ahead of Saturday’s race.
“We are not starting this race as the big favorites and it won’t be our task to control the race,” said team press officer Luuc Eisenga. “If it comes down to a sprint finish, then you can’t underestimate Boonen. All the riders are in good physical condition. In Zabel, Andy Klier, (Alexandre) Vinokourov, who got stronger as the Paris-Nice progressed, and (Steffen) Wesemann, we have a number of options in this race. That will make it more difficult for the other teams to figure out our plan.”
The team reports Zabel isn’t suffering from any after-effects following Tuesday’s crash at Tirreno-Adriatico. The sprinter hit the tarmac on the final stage of the week-long race through southern Italy, but was able to continue racing.
T-Mobile for MSR: Rolf Aldag (36), Sergey Ivanov (30), Matthias Kessler (25), Andreas Klier (29), Stephan Schreck (26), Alexander Vinokourov (31), Steffen Wesemann (34), Erik Zabel (34).
Arvesen leads Big Red Machine
Norwegian strongman Kurt-Asle Arvesen will try to upset the apple cart and sneak away over the Cipressa or Poggio, because the Team CSC rider knows the sprinters will be hard to hold off once they’re on the Via Roma.
“My favorites are probably Freire, Petacchi and Boonen, and I think Rabobank will try to make the race as hard as possible, so that Petacchi won’t be able to keep up on the last climbs. Obviously we hope to be in a break away towards the end, because then you never know, what’ll happen,” said Arvesen.
Italian veteran Giovanni Lombardi, Jens Voigt and Vladimir Gusev will be other options for Bjarne Riis’s Team CSC.
Pezzo racing in Primavera
Two-time Olympic mountain-bike champion Paolo Pezzo will be racing in Saturday’s Primavera Rosa ahead of the men’s race. The third round of the women’s World Cup will be her first race since last year’s series finals.
“I have thought carefully before deciding, but I’m longing for the bike and I don’t feel ready to stop. I come back to race,” said Pezzo.
The Primavera Rosa covers the final 118km of the men’s course along the Italian coast, starting in Varazze and ending on the Via Roma in San Remo.
Pezzo said she’s lining up more as training for mountain-bike marathon races later this season.
“I have trained with the enthusiasm of a beginner for the last months, but I know I couldn’t fight for victory on Saturday. I will try to come back to the top on a ground more familiar to me: the off-road routes of the marathon World Cup,” she said. “Beginning this year the marathon enters the official UCI calendar and boasts a good program, including 10 World Cups and a world championship.”
Pezzo will race in the first World Cup on April 11 in Cyprus. The 36-year-old Veronese champion will race with the Specialized team, but in the road race will wear the Saccarelli’s jersey.