By Tim Maloney, European Editor in Milano, Italy
At a pre Milano-Sanremo press conference Friday, Team Milram riders Alessandro Petacchi, the 2005 winner and four-time Primavera champ Erik Zabel exuded confidence for Saturday's first classic of the season.
Ale-Jet Petacchi is a man of few words; the super sprinter from La Spezia preferring to speak with his afterburners, but telling the assembled media: "I feel even stronger this year than last year... sure, there are a lot of challengers, but I'm starting with the #1 on my back. My team is good and I'm sure we will be up to the challenge."
Petacchi's lead-out man for Milano-Sanremo will be four time winner Erik Zabel, and the German rider seems perfectly happy with his role as set-up man for the Italian, even if he's already won La Classicissima four times. Zabel explained that "the main point is that Milram is a new team and we want to win Milano-Sanremo. I know Alessandro is stronger than last year and even then, no-one could beat him.
"We know Boonen is very strong too and very fast uphill. And Bettini will be attacking, so we have to watch Quick.Step. Then there is Freire and Rabobank, Astarloa and even Allan Davis from Liberty Seguros." Affirmed Petacchi, "We know Bettini wants to do well in Milano-Sanremo and he's certainly a man to watch. I'm sure he will attack, but we don't know how effective he will be."
Zabel continued evaluating the competition for Team Milram, saying: "We know that Alessandro [Petacchi] is absolutely strong uphill; his sprints in the uphill finishes [at Tirreno-Adriatico] were amazing to see. So our plan is to stay together from the Cipressa on and see what happens."
Cyclingnews also spoke with experienced Dutch rider Martin Den Bakker as he spent some time loosening up on the home trainer outside the Team Milram hotel. Den Bakker started his pro career sixteen seasons ago in 1990 on the vaunted PDM squad and recently ended eight seasons with Rabobank. "This is a good team and the vibe is positive," he said. "I'm learning Italian too! Tomorrow, our strategy is to keep it together; I don't think we're going to let a break go with a Quick.Step or Rabobank rider. Then my job is to be there with Petacchi on the Poggio, then it's Velo, Sacchi and Zabel's turn."