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Alessandro Petacchi pulls on the proTour leader jersey.
With a roar of raw emotion that was heard in his hometown of La Spezia 200km down the Italian coast, Alessandro Petacchi won Milano-Sanremo in a thrilling, emotional finale. In one of the best Milano-Sanremos in years, Ale-Jet put on the afterburners on via Roma today with a magnificent sprint of power and audacity, the most important sprint of his life to win La Classicissima di Primavera.
"That was everything, really everything for me," an emotional Petacchi said of his primal yell after gaining his first-ever classic win. "My victory today was the best moment of my career and it was also a liberation for me...today the race lasted seven hours, but it was a lot more for me. Last night I think I dreamed of all the corners on the descent of the Poggio...I didn't sleep that well because I was nervous about the race. But that feeling gives you what you need to win. Today I showed I could do it."
For the last three seasons, Petacchi has been looking for a breakthrough classics win; the word was that he could win any field sprints, but couldn't take the pressure or didn't have the legs to win a classic. At this year's Fassa Bortolo team presentation, his team boss Giancarlo Ferretti said that "Petacchi can win a classic and he will." Today the 31 year-old showed he has taken his form and confidence to another level with one of the best race winning sprints in years to triumph in Sanremo.
Over the winter, Petacchi lost 3 kg, gave up his usual vacation and prepared for the season under the tutelage of his preparatore Dr. Cecchini with new focus and desire. Despite his extensive wins over the last few seasons and 11 wins so far in 2005 before Sanremo, the speedster from La Spezia came into this season. with a chip on his shoulder. After Milano-Sanremo today, a defiant Petacchi said "After what I've done today, I've closed the mouths of people who said I couldn't win after a long distance or take the pressure in the big races."
Petacchi is now the 49th Italian to win in Sanremo, but with one kilometre to go, everything was up in the air in La Classicissima di Primavera. Today's sprint was not your normal charge to the line. As the front group of 50 riders came sweeping from Corso Raimondi onto via Roma with 350m to go, Paolo Bettini was leading and saw that Petacchi was on his wheel. Bettini swept left almost next to the barriers, perhaps to distract Petacchi, or to help his teammate Boonen get a better position. And it almost worked. Petacchi seemed to hesitate for an instant - he explained that, "In the finale, it was kind of dangerous when I was on Bettini's wheel, but I just wanted to win."
He is not a lead-out sprinter but one that has an irresistible progression to the finish line. At that point, the Fassa man almost got swarmed on his right, but suddenly he leaned over his handlebars and literally leaped for the finish line with an incredible jump, gapping the riders behind and blowing the best sprinters in the world away. "This morning, I told Ferretti and my direttore sportivo Alberto Volpi that I was going win today," explained Petacchi. "I felt strong on the Turchino and on Cipressa, I knew I was having a great day today."
La Classicissima di Primavera is a hard race to predict. With almost 300km distance, it's a strange race that's very difficult to interpret tactically. Today's edition was a muscle flexing exercise between the super strong teams fielded by Petacchi's Fassa Bortolo squad and World Champion and defending Sanremo winner Oscar Freire's Rabobank team.
Post-race, Gianni Bugno, who won Milano-Sanremo 15 years ago commented, "Petacchi won per the predictions, but the race today was also won by his (Fassa Bortolo) team, not just Petacchi. All the riders did a great job for him and Alessandro showed that he is really the best sprinter; he really has no rivals."
Two bike lengths behind Petacchi was German sprinter Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner), who is having his best season ever, Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) who earned his best-ever result in one of the five monuments of cycling. Stuart O'Grady had a good ride for fourth and his Cofidis squad was strong today, while World Champ and ProTour leader Oscar Freire (Rabobank) may have been jinxed, as the new ProTour rules forced the Spanish sprinter to leave his rainbow striped jersey in his suitcase today. Big boy Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) seemed to get lost in the sauce today and only finished 8th, while Mario Cipollini looked good all day, but finished well out of the money in what ended up as his last Classicissima.
"This will be my last time I'll see via Roma as a racer," said an eloquent Mario Cipollini post-race today after his 17th participation in La Primavera. "The race was positive for me today and I'm happy how it went, said the soon to be 38 year-old Cipollini. "But when we got to the finale, it was impossible to beat Petacchi, because Fassa Bortolo did a really great job. I managed to get Petacchi's wheel, but in the last 300 metres, Zabel got in there and my chance went up in smoke. Today's win is the consecration of Petacchi."
USPRO Champ Fred Rodriguez (Davitamon-Lotto), runner-up to Cipo on via Roma three years ago, yo-yo'ed off the back on the Cipressa and Poggio in the last 30km and finally finished out of the game. "I crashed in Paris-Nice, and I still haven't recovered from that," he told Cyclingnews. "My left leg's not working - I've been getting therapy, but it's [the leg] not recovering. I felt it in the last 30k, when you have to put out full gas; I don't have 100 percent yet."
On a warm Saturday morning, the 96th edition of Milano-Sanremo, La Classicissima di Primavera, left Milano's Piazza Sant'Ambrogio at 9:35. Two big names, McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) and Hincapie (Discovery Channel) as well as Ivan Fanelli (LPR) didn't start today because both riders had been hit by the influenza that's decimated the peloton this spring. Armstrong, Ullrich, Cunego and Simoni sat out, Cipo was there for the 17th time, a record that equalled that of his fellow Tuscan Gino Bartali.
After a fast, nervous start on the flat roads leading out of Milano, there was a series of attacks that finally led to the right break. Amid the rice paddies south of Pavia near the S.Martino Siccomario after 32km, five riders were able to escape from the peloton: chunky sprinter Jimmy "Ghost" Casper (Cofidis), Iñaki Isasi Flores (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Daniele Righi (Lampre-Caffita), twenty year old Mauro Santambrogio (LPR) and Filippo Simeoni (Naturino). The first hour of Milano-Sanremo was raced at 42.785 km/h average. After 50 km in Casteggio, the lead quintet had a 4'20 over a two Tony chasing group of Antonio Bucciero (Acqua&Sapone) and Antonio Salomone (Barloworld-Valsir), with the gruppo at 6'15. In the next five kilometres, the gruppo sat up and gained another five minutes to increase their lead to 11'15 in Voghera.
By Tortona after 72km, the race situation was that the two Tonys were chasing at 5'40, while the gruppo was rolling along at 17'40, with the average pace of 40.6 km/h. The quintet then climbed to the highest point of Milano-Sanremo, the Turchino Pass (532m) after 135km of racing, where the break had 13'05 on the two Tonys Bucciero and Salomone and 15'05 on the gruppo. Then it was the long descent to the Ligurian coast, where the weather turned out to be other than expected. Instead of the warm and sunny conditions on the north side of the mountains, it was cool and mixed overcast, with a west headwind that slowed the breaks.
Once they hit the via Aurelia along the coast, the sprinter squads upped the pace, absorbed the two Tony break and began to close down on the five fugitives. There were huge crowds spectating along the coast road and after 209km of racing in Finale Ligure, with 94km to go, the break had 7'30 with Rabobank, Fassa Bortolo and Liberty Seguros riding tempo.
At the second feed zone in Ceriale 24km later, the break had less than two minutes and the chasers had them in sight. Tafi (Saunier Duval-Prodir) attacked solo to try and bridge across to the break on Capo Mele. But Fassa upped the pace with Ongarato hammering on the front. The break had less then a minute lead, with Tafi in between as the race flashed through Andorra Marina, the hometown of Mirko Celestino and little shoreside village was adorned with celeste blue bunting and balloons to celebrate Mirko's 31st birthday today, 19 March 1974, San Giuseppe, the same day Felice Gimondi won Milano-Sanremo.
It was gruppo compatto with 50km to race, when CSC's Andrea Peron crashed and abandoned the race. Before Capo Cervo, the easiest of i tre capi, Cofidis came to the front for O'Grady and took up the tempo from Fassa Bortolo. Next up, Cofidis then sent Vasseur to the front on Capo Berta to hammer hard, when an attack by Naturino's other talented youngster, 20 year-old Valerio Agnoli got away solo. But then the orange jerseys of Ceramica Panaria-Navigare hit the front, upped the pace even more and sucked the kid up by the summit of Capo Berta with 40km to go.
Down the other side of Capo Berta and into the narrow streets of Onelia, there was a big crash with 33km to race that took out Italian champ Moreni, Discovery's Hoste, T-Mobile's Schreck, Francaise des Jeux's Eisel and Liquigas's Milesi. This split the gruppo in two and Naturino's leader Marinangeli was caught in a second group of 30 that was chasing at 40. Up front, Rabobank was pounding away on the front as the day's penultimate climb, the 5.6km Costa Rainera, also called the Cipressa, which begins in S.Lorenzo a Mare, hit with 30km to go to Sanremo. As the team cars came from behind the crash to the front group, Simone Masciarelli (Acqua&Sapone) and others desperately tried to get across the gap.
As the first slopes of the Cipressa began, Fassa had positioned Kirchen on the front as a stopper to quash any attacks. Panaria had been telegraphing a move for several kilometres and sure enough, Luca Mazzanti went hard and got a gap, but it didn't go anywhere as the sprinters teams' tempo was just too strong.
After 3km of the Cipressa, Francesco Casagrande (Naturino) attacked hard, was caught, and then Panaria's Tiralongo made a move and Casagrande went with him. But once again, it was nothin' doin' and after 3.5km of the ascent, it was gruppo compatto again. Another Panaria rider went, this time Lele Sella, but he left his move too late. At the summit of the Cipressa, everyone was still together and the ascent had been climbed in 9'30, a record time.
On the tricky, twisting descent of the Cipressa back down to the via Aurelia coast road, Mirko Celestino (Domina Vacanze) made a move with 22km to go, but once again, the Silver Train of Fassa Bortolo was right on him. At that point, Bettini and Rebellin had also made it to the front to the race, while Fred Rodriguez was having trouble on the tough Cipressa descent. The USPRO champ was dropped out of the front group, but then chased hard to get back with some Rabobank and Quick.Step chasers.
Once back on the coast road after the Cipressa, there were 10km to the foot of the day's final ascent, il Poggio. Bettini then hit the front and upped the pace, getting a gap that would make Fassa Bortolo chase hard and help his teammate Boonen. But Petacchi, Freire, Cipo, Boonen, Hondo Hushovd and O'Grady were all still there, so Fassa and Rabobank were powering away on the front.
With 18km to go in S.Lorenzo a Mare, Kashechkin (Credit Agricole) made it across to Bettini and this duo quickly got 15 seconds. In olive oil center Arma di Taggia, the front duo had gained more time and had 30 as only Fassa Bortolo were chasing. As the lead then hit half a minute, Rabobank's Boven and Den Bakker joined the chase behind, but the Olympic champion and his former teammate Kashechkin were working well together.
The gap between the break and the chase at the base of Poggio was 15 seconds and the table was set for yet another nail-biting, tension fraught Milano-Sanremo finale. Bettini and Kashechkin knew the jig was up, but they just didn't know when. After a kilometre of the Poggio, Vicioso (Liberty Seguros) attacked and blasted past the front duo.
Behind the Spaniard, the gruppo was stretched out in one long multicolored ribbon in pursuit and behind him, multiple attacks by Tiralongo (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare) and Vinokourov (T-Mobile) brought him back. Halfway up the Poggio, the stage was set for the most dangerous attack of the 96th Milano-Sanremo. Pellizotti (Liquigas) countered Vino, then Rebellin made a powerful surge. The Gerolsteiner man went to the front for a rare attack and his move carried Pellizotti and chasers Celestino, Kirchen and Merckx clear.
At the top of the Poggio, climbed at a pace of 6'10, the lead five had a 0'06 advantage over the strung-out gruppo led by Alejandro Valverde (Illes Baleares), who got across to the front group in the first kilometre. Daring descender Celestino bombed the sinuous ribbon back down to Sanremo, but with Kirchen playing stopper, the break was absorbed with 2km.
Fassa Bortolo had some trouble getting organized after the descent but with 1.5km to go, Fabio Sacchi came up to Petacchi to give him a good wheel to ride on. At the 1km mark, Laurent "Broche" Brochard (Bouygues) tried a solo move but he was pulled back with 600m to go. Petacchi got on Bettini's wheel and when the riders hit the finishing straight, the Quick.Step rider zigged, Petacchi hurled himself up the left side of the road with 250m to go and halfway home, he was two bike lengths clear of runner-up Hondo. Petacchi's sprint was so strong he could turn around twice in the last 100m to look back at the vanquished field and with 25m to go, the speedster from La Spezia threw his arms in the air, yelled at the top of his lungs and won his first ever classics victory today in Milano-Sanremo.