The T-Mobile Team is sending its proven Classics specialists into action at Saturday's Milan-San Remo, with Erik Zabel spearheading the eight-man magenta roster. Relieved of the favourites tag, the team are nevertheless travelling to the Lombardy region of Italy in an upbeat mood: "We are not starting this race as the big favourites and it won't be our task to control the race," says team press officer Luuc Eisenga.
The 34 year-old veteran sprinter has left his mark on the race in the past, powering his way to four wins in five years (1997, 1998, 2000, 2001) on San Remo's Via Roma. Last year Zabel missed out on a fifth 'Primavera' title in the most agonising fashion when Oscar Freire dramatically edged it out on the line.
Besides Oscar Freire, who has been in incredible form so far this season, Eisenga nominates Belgian sprinter Tom Boonen to the list of race favourites, alongside Freire and Petacchi. Boonen, for his part, was busy scouting the course on Monday, paying particular attention to the Cipressa and Poggio climbs, where the race is often won or lost.
"If it comes down to a sprint finish, then you can't underestimate Boonen," said Eisenga, who also believes that the T-Mobile Team are in good shape for the 294 kilometre-long race. "All the riders are in good physical condition. In Zabel, Andy Klier, [Alexandre] Vinokourov, who got stronger as the Paris-Nice progressed, and [Stefen] Wesemann, we have a number of options in this race. That will make it more difficult for the other teams to figure out our plan."
Fortunately, Erik Zabel is not suffering from any after-effects from Tuesday's crash at Tirreno-Adriatico. The sprinter hit the tarmac on the final stage, but was able to continue racing. T-Mobile sporting director Mario Kummer gave Zabel the all-clear there and then: "Nothing to worry about, apart from a few scratches - Erik got off lightly," he said.
T-Mobile roster: Rolf Aldag (36), Sergey Ivanov (30), Matthias Kessler (25), Andreas Klier (29), Stephan Schreck (26), Alexander Vinokourov (31), Steffen Wesemann (34), Erik Zabel (34)