San Remo Fever
The feast of San Giuseppe is traditional day that San Remo used to be raced on. That day to Americans is known as the day after St. Patrick’s Day. Usually San Remo was raced on the Saturday around St. Giuseppe. This year, San Remo is raced on that day, which would probably mean an Italian victory. Petacchi? Bettini? Astarloa (he is a wannabe Italian)?
Anyway, the anticipation is heating up as websites everywhere have to have some sort of word on the race. The anticipation this year is more intense due to the rivalry that is shaping up between Alessandro Petacchi and Tom Boonen. Since the World Championships in Madrid ended with a dejected Petacchi and a somewhat surpising winner in Boonen, the rivalry was on. There may have been times when the two competed against each other in the past, but this year the competition between the two sprinters seems to take on a new level. They are both looking to win Milano San Remo and there was a bit of trash talking from Boonen who said that Petacchi was not very impressive in Tirreno Adriatico. Oh, snap! Not too intense, but that is as much trash as we are going to get outside of Robbie McEwen and Gilberto Simoni.
So the stage is set, everyone is looking to the two sprinters to duke it out on the Via Roma. This is assuming they make it past the Cipressa in a bunch. It almost seems like a forgone conclusion that the result should contain a man named Boonen and another named Petacchi, either one of which will occupy the top spot. Why even race the race, just have a match sprint in the last 200 meters of the Via Roma and be done with it, save everybodies time while we are at it.
Well, because San Remo’s finish is typically a lottery. Amazingly enough Erik Zabel was able to win 4 (should have been 5) times when the race finished in big sprints. After much hype Copillini won in 2003 The same hype followed Petacchi last year who finally claimed the win in dramtic Cipo style.
This year there seems to be a handful of outsiders that may want to trip up the race and win either in a chaotic bunch sprint or disrupt the finish. Paolo Bettini was in great form before a crash made him questionable to even race. Il Grillo is tough, and he will be at the start. Whether he can endure 7 hours in the saddle is another question. Pez Cycling has a good writeup on San Remo, and one thing that is noted by many of the past winners is that the racing typically does not start until 30 to 20km to go. Most of the rest is cruising along and letting a break go The final Capi that lead to the Cipressa and Poggio are where the difference is made in the race.
So, can Bettini endure the 6.5 hours of riding along and be able to turn up the heat when needed? A rider of Bettini’s style needs to constantly attack, which means he needs to be in top form. He cannot wait for a bunch sprint and will have to be very active on the Poggio. Riders go so fast up the climb that they must brake on the turns. It is a great site to see riders going up a climb at warp speed and almost clipping a turn while going up hill. That is the type of effort that is needed to get away. That is probably not in the cards for Bettini. Il Grillo will make a valiant effort to stay in the race. If he does make it to the end look for at least one crazy attack. But, I highly doubt that we will see him take the risk in the tight corners of the Poggio descent.
Igor Astarloa is coming back from the duldrums. He already won a race that started in Milano and ended in a city not far from San Remo, Milano Torino. The arrival of former team manager Claudio Corti helped revamp the team and get important invites to big races. The Spaniard’s beloved Classics are within reach again as Barloworld was invitied to many Northern Classics along with San Remo. This kind of rejuvanation results in great performances. Milano Torino was a bust out, now Astarloa could be the overlooked rider in the hypefest of San Remo. Many odds makers do no even put Astarloa as a top pick, buthe must be viewed as dangerous. He has the punchiness to get away and maintain a small lead going into the Via Roma finish. Races with this much hype often end with a surprise winner, so look for Adtarloa to spoil the sprint party.
Erik Zabel has been second too many times. He broke through in Paris Tour last fall with a somewhat surprising win. Being a true professional he will play the domestique to Petacchi who is on great form at the moment. But San Remo is unpredictable. If Petacchi get caught behind a crash or clips a corner, then Zabel has the chance.
THOR Hushovd pipped Petacch in Tirreno Adriatico. Petacchi attributed the loss to a botched sprint that was a result of poor team work. In Milan San Remo, anything can happen in the finale, if Hushovd is in the main bunch he could find a way around the top sprinters to spoil their party. Otherwise, in a straight no-mistake sprint, despite a third place last year, Hushovd simply will not be able to get around a Petacchi/ Boonen battle.
Oscar Friere caught the super professional Erik Zabel off guard before to claim a San Remo win. This year he is back in form and racing well with a stage win and yellow/red jersey win. San Remo may suit the Quad World Champion, but he is much like Hushovd in that he will not beat the Petacchi/ Boonen battle, so he needs to find another way around.
One factor that could go to Hushovd’s and Friere’s favor is that after almost 300km of racing, Boonen and Petacchi may not have the same snap to their sprint. But, as we saw last year, Petacchi was able to do his traditional windup to the finish and win a textbook sprint finsh. This year Petacchi is a few kilos lighter making the strain of the small climbs much easier to take.
So, it is picking time, what does Velochimp predict? It depends on the scenario. If there is a big bunch at the end, I would be certain that Quick Step and Milram will be working hard to keep their main men at the front. Then it would simply come down to a train vs. train sprint. I would give the edge to Petacchi. He has won the race before, he is a few kilos lighter and has Erik Zabel (a 4 time winner) as his leadout man. Plus, Boonen may be tired from flying back to Belgium and then receiving an award last night by Gazzetta Dello Sport the Oscar Gazzetta. Is this a subtle way for the Italians to tire out the powerful Belgian? They have been know to fly a helicopter a bit lower to slow down Laurent Fignon in a Giro Time Trial, so you never know.
If the race gets broken apart on the Poggio, I would look for a rider such as Igor Astarloa to mix things up and get the win. Bettini is simply too hurt, and I cannot imagine Paolo taking the chances on the Poggio descent to keep a small lead. If he is in form, he probably will not have the extra snap required to get a solo win.
Regardless of the outcome, the final 30k looks to provide excitement as riders unleash blistering attacks on a climb that regular folks like us would have trouble with. The best part of watching the race has to be seeing the riders go so fast up the Poggio that they have to brake on the turns. It seems as though the corners going up are just as dangerous as going down.