Katusha rider gives it all in final efforts at Milan-San Remo
With his aggressive performance in Milan-San Remo, Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) blew away the cliché that he is never willing to give his all to try and win a bike race. He still missed out on victory as the sprinters again dominated the results but as the Italian media begins the count back to the last Italian Classics win (518 days since Cunego won the Giro di Lombardia in 2008) and talk of a crisi nel ciclismo Italiano, Pozzato can hold his head high as he refects on his ride at Milan-San Remo.
He knew he would have little chance in a sprint against the likes of Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank), and so his Katusha team rode an aggressive race, with the aim of splitting the peloton and dropping as many sprinters as possible before the finish in San Remo.
Katusha rode hard on the Turchino, set a leg burning tempo on the Manie climb and then tried to get rid of the sprinters on the Cipressa and the Poggio. Serguei Ivanov and Alexandre Kolobnev sacrificed their chances and went on the attack to split the leading group. Pozzato waited on the wheels and then made his own move, following Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma Lotto) at the top of the Pioggio and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo) on the descent.
When that didn't work, his final card was a lone attack in the final three kilometres. Perhaps inspired by his team manager Andrei Tchmil, who escaped the peloton to win Milan-San Remo in 1999, Pozzato took off with three kilometres to go as the bunch came back together on the Aurelia coast road after the descent of the Poggio.
He got a gap, flew past Nibali who'd had the same idea, and for a few second must have started thinking he had a chance of a second San Remo success. Most of the sprinters in the front group were isolated and on their own, so Pozzato could have benefitted as they hesitated. However Liquigas had Daniele Oss alongside Daniele Bennati and the lanky young Italian dragged his teammate and everyone back up to Pozzato just in time for the final kilometre.
"Everybody talks about making it a hard race and then nobody is willing to use their riders to make it happen," Pozzato lamented to Gazzetta dello Sport.
"We worked hard right from the start of the race and that's why I didn't have any teammates for the finale. We tried but what was Liquigas trying to do? Liquigas rode for Bennati in the end but they would have been better off if they'd got rid of some of sprinters."
Pozzato went "all in" with his final attack, risking any chance in the sprint for solo glory. It was always going to be cycling equivalent of poker's bloody river but didn't come off for Pozzato didn't and he finished 29th and out of the game. Rightly, he had no regrets.
"I wanted to wait a little bit longer and go nearer the finish, but the group slowed and spread out and so I thought it was the right moment to try a surprise move," he said.
"Against these sprinters, there was no chance in a sprint finish. The only chance was to go on the attack. Unfortunately they all went really well and Freire won because he's he had something extra compared to the others. I don't think anybody can say I raced badly."
After all the criticism, for Pozzato that is almost as good as a victory.