By Greg Johnson
Italy's beloved Spring Classic can be won in several ways, but as we've discovered over the years there are a couple of heart-breaking ways to lose it as well. As the cycling world gears up to celebrate the event's 100th birthday, we look at five of the many big moments that have earned Milano-Sanremo a special place in the hearts of riders and fans.
2004: Erik Zabel's pain, Oscar Freire's gain
Then-double world champion Oscar Freire flew under the radar en route to his first Sanremo victory in 2004 - the first by a Spaniard since Miguel Poblet in 1959. Emulating Poblet's victory was a special moment for Freire, in part due to his respect for the rider but also because it cemented Freire as one of the world's top one day riders.
Freire's joy spelled heartbreak for Erik Zabel, however. One of the most successful German riders in Milano-Sanremo's history, Zabel thought he had moved one step closer to Eddy Merckx's virutally unbeatable tally of seven wins by claiming a fifth title.
It was to be a glorious mistake, rather than a glorious celebration. As Zabel, wearing the national champion's jersey, raised his arms high in celebration of a fifth victory, Freire threw for the line and snatched the win from the hands of defeat.
The winning margin? Just three centimetres.
"I realised my mistake right away when Freire passed me," said Zabel. "But I prefer to look on the bright side of things...People have said I'm on the decline but I beat Petacchi."
Zabel returned to Sanremo chasing number five for many years to come. He was regularly a contender, painfully having to watch Freire out-sprint him in a 2007 rematch, but the 2004 event was the last time Zabel raised his arms at the Sanremo finish line.
Still, the retired German's place in the race's history books is still impressive. His four victories came in two lots of two back-to-back victories, firstly in 1997 and '98 then again in 2000 and '01.
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