By Andrew Hood
Alessandro Petacchi is now the undisputed king of the sprints following his emotional victory down the Via Roma in Saturday’s Milan-San Remo.
Mario Cipollini, who finished with the lead bunch in what he promises will be his last Milan-San Remo, was quick to tip his hat to Petacchi in a clear passing of the baton in the power rankings of the Italian sprinter hierarchy.
“I can imagine what he feels at this moment,” Cipollini said Saturday on the Via Roma just three years after he won. “It’s his consecration as a rider of high quality.”
It’s also chaos at the finish when an Italian wins the classicissima, but San Remo turned into pandemonium when Petacchi roared across the line to score his most prestigious win to date.
The slimmed-down Petacchi broke down in tears as he hugged teammates, his girlfriend and family members after delivering the one big win that some doubted he could.
“I won thanks to you,” Petacchi told his girlfriend as the tears – and the tension dating back to last year’s upset loss – poured out. “This is the second happiest day of my life. The first will be the day after the Giro when I marry Chiara in church.”
The Fassa Bortolo sprinter won rather easily at two bike lengths ahead of Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner), thanks in part to an erratic lead-out by Quick Step’s Paolo Bettini that torpedoed the chances of teammate Tom Boonen, who lost Petacchi’s wheel in the ensuing charge to the line.
Milan-San Remo marks Petacchi’s 90th career victory and his 12th of the 2005 season. With the win, Petacchi moved into the overall leader’s jersey of the ProTour.
ProTour rankings(after Milan-San Remo)
1. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita), Fassa Bortolo 93 points
2. Oscar Freire (Spa), Rabobank 78
3. Danilo Hondo (Ger), Gerolsteiner 70
4. Bobby Julich (USA), Team CSC 50
5. Alejandro Valverde (Spa), Illes Balears 41
6. Thor Hushovd (Nor), Credit Agricole 35
7. Fabrizio Guidi (Ita), Phonak 35
8. Constantine Zaballa (Spa), Saunier Duval 35
9. Jens Voigt (Ger), Team CSC 31
10. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Cofidis 30
1. Fassa Bortolo 47
2. Liberty Seguros-Wurth 41
3. Rabobank 39
1. Spain 174
2. Italy 155
3. Germany 127
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.
Discovery ready to forget MSR
Discovery Channel limped out of Milan-San Remo happy to still be in one piece. The team was handicapped before leaving Milan after George Hincapie didn’t take the start after coming down with a fever while Max Van Heeswijk, fifth last year, made the decision not to start earlier in the week.
Things got worse when classics strongman Leif Hoste went down in a pileup about 50km from the finish and injured his right knee. Hoste didn’t finish and it was still not clear how badly he was banged up. British champion Roger Hammond led the team with 21st while Stijn Devolder came through in a group 1:05 back.
“This was just a day to quickly forget for us,” Demol told the team’s GM Dan Osipow. “We just hope we have our two leaders, Max and George, back for the next group of races. (Petacchi) once again showed he is the best rider in the peloton at this point. He’s super skinny and he has a super team that is built around him for his talents. Like we have a team built around Lance at the Tour, Petacchi has a great deal around him as well.” Heras makes season debut in Setmana Catalana
Three-time Vuelta a España champion Roberto Heras will make his season debut in Monday’s start of the Setmana Catalana. The Liberty Seguros captain says he’s ready to race after a quiet off-season.
“I’ve felt good in training and I’m ready to start racing. The team comes with a lot of people to do well and my idea is to help them, but I also want to do well again,” Heras said. “It’s been awhile since I’ve raced, but after doing two grand tours, if you train well, it’s not that big of a deal. In fact, it helps to regain the spark.”
Heras will start his season a little later than usual after he skipped the Tour of Murcia earlier this month as part of a strategy to arrive fresher at the Tour de France. Heras once again will race both the Tour and the Vuelta, but admitted he’s quite anxious to prove he can perform well at the Tour.
“I want to do well in the Tour. I believe we have a strong team if we all arrive in good form,” he said. “Later, there’s the Vuelta but right now I’m not going to think about that. When you have the Tour, it’s better to only think about that. Only when you’re finished with the Tour can you start to think about the Vuelta.”
Liberty Seguros won’t have Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano or Joseba Beloki, both down with illnesses. Gonzalez de Galdeano has been diagnosed with cytomegalovirus, a type of virus that’s similar to mononucleosis. Beloki, meanwhile, is fighting off the flu and won’t race again until the Tour de Romandie ahead of the Giro d’Italia.