By Andrew Hood
Five-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong has elected to skip Saturday’s World Cup opener, Milan-San Remo.
U.S. Postal’s Dirk Demol told AFP that Milan-San Remo does not fit in to the Texan’s build-up for his attempt at a record sixth straight win in cycling’s premier prize.
Armstrong’s next scheduled race is the Criterium International in the Ardennes region of Belgium at the end of the month.
Bettini wants to avoid sprint
Defending Milan-San Remo champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) says he wants to do everything to avoid a sprint coming down the Via Roma on Saturday. That, of course, means the “Cricket” will have to try to spring away like he did last year.
“Barring the unexpected, I will have to try my luck on the Cipressa or the Poggio,” Bettini told L’Equipe. “I come into this year’s race a little more relaxed because I’ve already won it.”
Last year, Bettini had teammate Luca Paolini to help him play his card against Mirko Celestino (Saeco). The two-time World Cup champion, fresh off his victory at Tirreno-Adriatico, is the pre-race favorite going into Saturday’s race.
Bettini said he wants to avoid facing Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze), Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) and the other sprinters by making a move early. But history is on the side of the sprinters as “La Primavera” has ended in mass gallops going back to the mid-1990s until Bettini’s great escape last year.
“This year, more than ever, one will have to attack and pull out the stops relentlessly,” he said. “Against Petacchi and Cipollini, we have no chance in a sprint.”
Quick Step is without Richard Virenque (tendinitis) and Johan Museeuw, who is saving his strength for the Belgian classics.
Quick Step for MSR: Paolo Bettini, Davide Bramati, Luca Paolini and Stefano Zanini (I), Tom Boonen and Nick Nuyens (B), Pedro Horrillo (Sp), Michael Rogers (Aus).
Petacchi, Pozzato lead Fassa Bortolo
Alessandro Petacchi is the favorite if the race comes down to a bunch sprint. The big Italian has been dominating the sprints so far this spring, racking up victories in Giro di Lucca and Tirreno-Adriatico.
Petacchi has had Mario Cipollini’s number in the early season sprints and desperately wants to add Milan-San Remo to his fast-growing palmares.
Fassa Bortolo will be working to bring the race down to a sprint, but will have Filippo Pozzato and Frank Vandebroucke as wild cards if their sprinting star isn’t up to the task.
Fassa Bortolo for MSR: Alessandro Petacchi, Roberto Petito, Filippo Pozzato, Matteo Tosatto and Marco Velo (I), Kim Kirchen (Lux), Guido Trenti (USA), Frank Vandenbroucke (B)
Zabel, Vino going T-Mobile
Four-time San Remo winner Erik Zabel and Alexandre Vinokourov will lead T-Mobile in La Primavera. Zabel won four San Remos in five years from 1997-2001 and can’t be discounted if the race comes down to a sprint. While the German has lost some of his speed, he still has the strength to battle after such a long race.
Vinokourov, meanwhile, is sure to try his luck on the Cipressa and Poggio, just as he did last year. Vinokourov is coming off three stage wins in Paris-Nice will be looking to follow Bettini in any moves.
T-Mobile for MSR: Erik Zabel, Rolf Aldag, Matthias Kessler, Andreas Klier et Steffen Wesemann (G), Serguei Ivanov (Rus), Daniele Nardello (I), Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz).
Postal confident in Van Heeswijk, Hincapie
U.S. Postal Service will try to slip George Hincapie into a breakaway and count on the legs of the Flying Dutchman, Max Van Heeswijk, to go head to head against the Italians in a sprint.
Van Heeswijk scored his fifth win of the season in the 59th Nokere Koerse yesterday in Belgium. Tony Cruz gave Van Heeswijk a nice leadout to win the sprint in a group of 61.
“It looks like we can now count on both riders – Max and George,” said Postal’s assistant sport director Dirk Demol. “If we see a chance for George, he may try and slide into a late breakaway. But for Max, he must wait and count on the sprint. For me, it’s a difficult race for us to win. I think our team has better chances at races like the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix, but Max has never been in such good shape. If it’s a 60 or so rider sprint, he will have a chance.”
Cipollini wants another
Could Mario Cipollini be playing a little poker leading up to Milan-San Remo? The Lion King has only won one race going into this weekend, and that was back at Tour Med in February. He couldn’t get around Petacchi at Giro di Lucca or at Tirreno-Adriatico and even pulled out of the last stage complaining of flu.
He’s been playing coy with the press, releasing statements such as “age is catching up to me” and “don’t bet on me.” Maybe he’s just taking the pressure off himself in case he can’t deliver, but behind the scenes Cipollini wants a big win following last year’s disappointing season while wearing the rainbow jersey.
“Cipollini has recovered after his flu that weakened him in the final stage of Tirreno-Adriatico,” said Domina Vacanze’s sport director Antonio Salutini. “For San Remo, the entire team will be working for him.”
Domina Vacanze for MSR: Mario Cipollini, Mario Scirea, Giovanni Lombardi, Andrus Aug (Est), Alessio Galletti, Martin Deganc (Slo), Gabriele Colombo and Gian Matteo Fagnini (all Italians unless otherwise noted).
Freire could be wild-card
Paolo Bettini calls Oscar Freire his most dangerous rival. The two-time world champion won a stage at Tirreno and just missed out on the overall title after putting Bettini under a lot of pressure.
Freire is riding with good legs and has apparently overcome many of the nagging injuries that plagued him the past two years. Rabobank also has former World Cup winner Erik Dekker, back to Milan-San Remo with ambitions to win following his crash in the 2002 edition that left him with a broken hip.
Rabobank for MSR: Erik Dekker, Maarten Den Bakker, Bram De Groot, Oscar Freire, Robert Hunter, Mathew Hayman, Jan Boven Saeco goes with Di Luca, Celestino
Saeco heads to Milan-San Remo keen to defend its team title in the World Cup series and will play two cards: Danilo Di Luca and Mirko Celestino, who finished second last year.
“We’ll have a strong team that will be able to make its presence felt during Milan-San Remo,” said Saeco sport director Giuseppe Martinelli. “Even if the results at Tirreno-Adriatico were not as good as we hoped, there is no doubt that our riders have worked very hard, especially on their endurance an important factor considering the length of the ‘Classicisima.’ We’ve planned a race tactic very different to that of last year. We’ll ride more hidden in the bunch; ride more tactically but without being afraid to play our cards with our leaders and with outsider Bertagnolli. The favorites for the race are riders such as Freire and especially Bettini, who seem to be strongest on paper, the race will be decided by how they ride.”
Celestino said he’s motivated to improve on his second-place from last year: “It’ll be hard to get the same result but we’re all determined to do well and I’m sure we’ll be in the think of the action. Perhaps we’ll play our cards closer to our chest this year but we will leave our mark on the race. Personally I’m happy with my build up and training. I feel better after riding Tirreno-Adriatico instead of Paris-Nice and I’m convinced play a big role in the race.”
Di Luca, meanwhile, said he’s anxious for a strong ride: “After an unlucky 2003 I’m naturally determined to get revenge. The team and the ‘tifosi’ are waiting for a big win and I think I can be competitive with the best, of course this doesn’t mean I’m going to win San Remo on Saturday. I know this race suits me even if some of my rivals are going better than I am. However it is widely known that who starts a race as the big favorite often takes too many risks and so I’m optimistic of my chances.”
Saeco for Milan-San Remo: Danilo Di Luca, Mirko Celestino, Leonardo Bertagnolli, Gabriele Balducci, Paolo Fornaciari, Evgueni Petrov, Dario Pieri and Alessandro Spezialetti
French hopes pegged on Brochard, Chavanel
A French rider hasn’t won Milan-San Remo since Laurent Jalabert attacked on the Poggio in 1995. The last Frenchman to be on the podium was Frederic Moncassin with third in 1998.
Ag2r will try its luck with Laurent Brochard while Sylvain Chavanel will lead La Boulangère. Chavanel said “La Primavera” isn’t his favorite race.
“This classic doesn’t particularly inspire me,” he told L’Equipe. “I’m not going well in the head right now, that’s why I haven’t had the best results.”
FDJeux.com will count on Baden Cooke to have good legs if the race comes down to a sprint. Cooke, winner of the green jersey in last year’s Tour, beat Cipollini in a sprint at the Tour Med back in February.
Ag2r for MSR: Laurent Brochard, Samuel Dumoulin, Andy Flickinger, Stéphane Goubert, Jean-Patrick Nazon, Christophe Oriol and Nicolas Portal (F), Mark Scanlon (Irl).
Brioches-La Boulangère : Sylvain Chavanel, Anthony Geslin, Laurent Lefèvre, Rony Martias, Alexandre Naulleau, Mickaël Pichon, Jérôme Pineau and Franck Renier (F).
Fdjeux.com: Baden Cooke, Brad McGee, Mark Renshaw and Matt Wilson (Aus), Carlos Da Cruz and Nicolas Fritsch (F), Bernhard Eisel (Aut), Philippe Gilbert (B).
Bartoli rebounds from injuries
Michele Bartoli has recovered from leg pain that prompted his departure from Team CSC’s domination in Paris-Nice last week and will lead the team down Via Roma.
“We only have one captain in Milan-San Remo and that’s Bartoli,” said Team CSC sport director Alain Gallopin. “I believe Bartoli can win the race, but as usual there are some big names to watch out for. We have to take some chances. We will come up with our strategy along the way, depending on how the race unfolds.”
Team CSC for MSR: Michele Bartoli, Michael Blaudzun, Fabrizio Guidi, Bobby Julich, Frank Høj, Lars Michaelsen, Maximilian Sciandri and Jens Voigt.Past 10 Milan-San Remo winners2003 Paolo Bettini (I)
2002 Mario Cipollini (I)
2001 Erik Zabel (G)
2000 Erik Zabel (G)
1999 Andrei Tchmil (B)
1999 Erik Zabel (G)
1997 Erik Zabel (G)
1996 Gabriele Colombo (I)
1995 Laurent Jalabert (F)
1994 Giorgio Furlan (I)2003 World Cup with winners
Milan-San Remo: Paolo Bettini (I)
Tour of Flanders: Peter Van Petegem (B)
Paris-Roubaix: Peter Van Petegem (B)
Amstel Gold Race: Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz)
Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Tyler Hamilton (USA)
Clasica San Sebastian: Paolo Bettini (I)
HEW-Cyclassics: Paolo Bettini (I)
Championships of Zurich: Daniele Nardello (I)
Paris-Tours: Erik Zabel (G)
Giro di Lombardia: Michele Bartoli (I)
2003 final World Cup standings
1. Paolo Bettini (I)365 pts
2. Michael Boogerd (Ned)220
3. Peter Van Petegem (B) 219
4. Davide Rebellin (I)187
5. Erik Zabel (G)186