By Gregor Brown
Francesco Ginanni, 23, will be one of the favourites to battle the experts in Milano-Sanremo this March 21. The second-year professional of team Diquigiovanni-Androni has already won two key races this year over the likes of 2006 Sanremo winner Filippo Pozzato and World Champion Alessandro Ballan.
"For an Italian Milano-Sanremo is the World Championships of the spring," Ginanni said to Cyclingnews from his home in Casalguidi, Italy.
Gianni won three Italian one-day classics last fall – Giro del Veneto, Tre Valli Varesine and GP Carnaghese – to put his name on the top of the sports newspapers. He started the 2009 season just as strong as he ended last year with a win in the Trofeo Laigueglia (won by Lance Armstrong in 1993 at age 21) and in last weekend's GP Insubria.
His name now comes up as one of the riders to challenge the likes of Pozzato, Ballan, Robbie McEwen, Alessandro Petacchi and Mark Cavendish in Milano-Sanremo. The race is one of sport's longest single-day events at 298 kilometres and is one of the five Monuments of cycling.
"A lot changes at that distance; you feel it in the legs – the stress and the fatigue of the race. Last year was the first time I did a race that long."
Ginanni is the strongest of several young sprinters coming through the Italian ranks that could challenge for the magical Sanremo win. Others include teammate Mattia Gavazzi, Jacopo Guarnieri (Liquigas), Oscar Gatto (ISD), Michele Merlo (Barloworld) and Enrico Rossi (Ceramica Flaminia-Bossini Docce).
Ginanni's advantage is that he rides for one of most successful teams at this point in the season. Gianni Savio's Diquigiovanni has won 14 times so far in 2009.
"Certainly, I will not be alone in the finale. There will be Davide Rebellin, Michele Scarponi – we will be able to vie for the win. If it arrives in a sprint I will have two optimum domestiques at my disposal."
Gianni will race the traditional Milano-Sanremo warm up event, Tirreno-Adriatico, next week. The Italian stage race runs from March 11 to 17 and leaves three days until the start of La Classicissima.