By Hedwig Kröner
One day after the legendary Italian Spring Classic Milan-San Remo, the best riders in the World have travelled back to their homes from the Mediterranean coast - some delighted, others disappointed.
Belgian Tom Boonen, who placed third in a tight photo finish between Alan Davis (Discovery), himself and Robbie McEwen (Predictor), complained about ongoing back problems that me him feel like an old man after the Classicissima. "I feel like I'm 85 years old after such a demolishing race," the Quick-Step rider told news agency belga. "But I felt great during the whole day. On the Cipressa and the Poggio, I wasn't very far behind the best. The team also performed perfectly for the task. I think we were the strongest team in the finale, but in the final sprint, Oscar Freire jumped ahead. Oh well, the best guy won."
Boonen wasn't too upset about his defeat against Spaniard Oscar Freire - to the contrary, he improved his placings in San Remo compared with the last two editions of the race. "If my back had been okay, maybe there would have been a different result, but that's not an excuse," he continued. "Also, I hesitated when Reynes and McEwen passed me on the right and the left just when I was about to start the sprint, but that's not an excuse either. There was nothing I could do against Freire, and I'm glad that after a fourth and eighth place I stood on the podium for the first time. That shows me that I'm ready for the rest of the spring season."
One of Boonen's rivals, Milram's Alessandro Petacchi, was defeated in a more bitter way in the final bunch sprint. The Italian favourite finished only eighth, two placings behind his teammate Erik Zabel, who was the last man to lead him out on the Via Roma. "I wasn't up to it today," Petacchi had to admit after the race. "I'm still lacking power. My left leg, the one where I broke my kneecap, still hasn't the same power than my right leg. I didn't put any pressure on it for so long..."
'Ale-Jet' broke his kneecap during the starting stages of the Giro d'Italia in Belgium last year. "I don't know how long it will take for both legs to have the same power again, but I feel that I'm not far away anymore," he continued. "I'm fine during the race - the only problem is the sprint itself. It demands enormous power of my leg, which is not used to that anymore."
Even though Petacchi had made a return to racing at the Vuelta a España in September, he had to abandon the second Grand Tour that year as he unfortunately broke his hand when hitting a team bus out of frustration for the lack of results. His teammate, four-times Milan-San Remo winner Erik Zabel only had one comment when asked about the sprinting hierarchy at the famous Italian Classic: "It's part of my contract," he told Radsportnews, certainly disappointed about the team's results as well.
But not only sprinters had their say in San Remo. Together with new Italian climbing prodigy Riccardo Riccò, Belgian Philippe Gilbert escaped in the ascent of the Poggio just a few kilometres away from the finish. But the pair could not fight off the sprinters' teams in the end, and the Française des Jeux rider finished 21st in the bunch. "I did everything in my power to obtain a podium place, but in the end I failed by a hair," Gilbert commented. "I rode a strong race, though. because I feared crashes, I told [teammate] Detilloux that we would race in front the whole day.
On the Cipressa, I was with the best for three or four kilometres, but when I saw that there wouldn't be any gap, I recovered my strengths and placed all my bets on the Poggio." As soon as the ultimate climb was reached, Gilbert took off with Riccò, and the pair had a 10 seconds lead at the summit. Still, the gap was too small to make a difference. "I had to crunch my teeth hard to be able to follow Riccò's expected attack, but I made it," Gilbert added. "The Italian was the strongest in the climb, and I was the strongest after that. We both gave it a 100 percent, but nothing came out of it. We gambled and lost, but that is the rule of the sport. A pity."