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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews’ live coverage from La Classicissima Milan-San Remo. It’s the first Classic of the season what a feast of racing we have in store for you today. At 298km, it’s the longest race on the UCI calendar and is traditionally regarded as the true start of the Spring Classics. Here we go...
Let's begin with an update on the weather. As expected - shock horror the weather man got it right - there's some light drizzle at the start today in Milan. Some of the riders are wearing capes but the good news is that the roads outside of Milan are dry.
With the weather out of the way we can take a look at the route. It’s the same as last year meaning roughly seven hours in the saddle for our riders today. I don’t know about you but I can’t imagine doing anything for seven hours. Sleeping, perhaps.
Anyway, the route is fairly flat until the climb of Le Mànie after 204 kilometres and could be a key point in the race. The legendary coastal Capi climbs begin 50 kilometres from the finish and mark the start of the traditionally tense finale of the race. The big attacks usually come just afterwards, on the climbs of the Cipressa, 25 kilometres from the finish, and the Poggio, which overlooks San Remo.
The Cipressa switch-backs its way up into the hills through olives trees and a small group of attackers often carve out a gap before the summit at the church. Some sprinters are dropped here but most make it over the top in the peloton and then get their teammates to chase down the break. While the Cipressa rarely decides the race, it does leave the sprinters in the red and with lactic acid burning in their legs.
Positioning on the approach to the Poggio is vital and there is effectively a sprint to decide who will start the climb near the front. The roads twist up the hillside through massive greenhouses full of early season flowers. The false flat near the summit is one of the favourite places to attack and try to get a gap before the high-speed descent to San Remo. There are just three kilometres between the bottom of the descent and the finish. That can be enough for any attackers to make a final move but also helps the sprinters' teams chase them down.
And we have our first attack of the day. Three riders have nipped off the front and the peloton seem keen on letting them go. Names to come..
Our three leaders are none other than Fabrice Piemontesi (Androni Giocattoli), Aristide Ratti (Carmiooro NGC) and, Diego Caccia (ISD – Neri) and they have 5:10 already.
With our three breakaway riders building up a healthy lead lets have a look at some of the favourites for today's race.
We’ll I’m sure that by now you’ve read our imperative guide to the race favourites (and if you haven’t you really should do) but in the meantime here’s an idea on what the Italian publication Gazetta dello Sport have to say:
They rate Boonen as the outright favourite with 9/10. Boasson Hagen is next with 8.5. Then we have our in-house, in favour blogger Pozzato, Bennati, Petacchi all tied on 8.
Not sure how they’ve determined those ratings but they sound as plausible as anything I’ve seen in the last few days.
Oh, and they give Mark Cavendish a rating of 5 for the day. What do you think? Does he have a chance? Let us know by either posting in our forumsor by dropping me an email at Cyclingnews@cyclingnews.com. If it’s legible and printable we’ll stick your thoughts in live coverage. Or you can send us a message via twitter.
Our leaders are now 11:20 ahead of the bunch. Think that's a lot? In the 2000 edition of the race Michele Gobbi took off for 170km and built up a lead of over 30 minutes. Not bad for a then neo-pro. More on that edition of the race a bit later...
A few minutes ago were talking about Gazetta dello Sport. Well our friends in Italy did a little poll and asked fans who they thought would win the race. They had over 6,500 votes with 15 per cent going for Boasson Hagen, 14.7 per cent for Boonen, Cancellara at 14.6 per cent and Petacchi at 14 per cent.
A few more factoids: It’s the 101st edition of the race .There have been 50 Italian wins in this race, 50 from non-Italian riders and it’s 50 years since the Poggio was added to the race. Spooky.
Just to let you know the CN crew all had a little flutter on the result for today’s race. Here’s what we went for. Alas, I pressed the submit button three times when selecting Cunego, so either I’m homeless by the end of today or the Milky Bars are on me. No pressure Little Prince. Meanwhile the leaders now have 18 minutes.
Daniel: Cunego 66/1
Susan: van avermaet 60/1
Laura: Breschel 40/1
Richard; Ballan 50/1
Peter: paolini 60/1
Stephen: Bennati 16/1
Les: Davis 80/1
Sue: Rollin 100/1
Greg: Petacchi 14/1
The gap is 21.40 but we’re finally seeing a chase with Lampre, Liquigas, Katusha and HTC all on the front.
What do you know, Garmin’s Christian Vande Velde has dropped in for a quick chat before his training ride this morning.
DB: Hello, Christian. You’re obviously not racing today so I assume you’re going to be training?
CVV: Yeah, I’m about to go now. I’m doing two hours on the TT bike. Catalunya starts in a few days and I’m doing that. I’ll be kicking Levi out of bed to see if he’ll come with me.
DB: Poor him. How is your form after Paris Nice?
CVV: I’m getting there slowly but surely. I had a little crash in Algarve but I’m getting there.
DB: I don’t want to hold you up too much, so one final question. Who is your pick for today?
CVV: Tom Boonen is my pick. He’s riding really well and we saw him riding well last week but it’s pot luck and the first big Classic, so you never know what it’s going to happen.
Back to the action and we're hearing reports via Twitter that it's raining in the feed zone... So the descent off the Turchino will be slick.
By the way here's a great tale from the 1980s. It's about the American 7-Eleven squad and their first ride in Milan-San Remo.
Your emails are coming in thick and fast and there's a general theme running throughout. You all seem to think that Cav has a better than 5/10 chance of winning.
"There is no way that cavendish is going to steal this race fro Thor Hushovd. He is 10/10. It's all his!!!" - Harry from New Zealand.
The gap between our three leaders and the peloton is now 21:35. Our man on the ground, Stephen Farrand, says it's raining but there's very little wind out on the roads. For those of you that don't know, Stephen joined the CN team in the winter transfer window. He lived in Italy for a long time and has been reporting on Milan-San Remo since the mid-90s.
Not everyone thinks Cavendish is sand bagging.
"I'm liking Laura's pick of Breschel. Could win from a small to medium pack of riders. Cav = no chance! Has as much chance as Kenny van Hummell winning the Tour!" - Andy from Brisbane.
The gap is up to 22.35.
Slightly off topic but today The Times published a list of the top 100 most powerful people in British sport. Dave Brailsford came in 14th place (down from 5th last year), while Bradley Wiggins was a new entry in 52nd place. No Mark Cavendish in the list, which I thought was a bit odd until I remembered who owned Sky and The Times.
The race has just gone through Novi Ligure, home of the Coppi museum.
Earlier this morning we reminisced about the 2000 edition of the race. Let’s get all misty-eyed again.
That day neo-pro Michele Gobbi took off for 170K. Any ideas where he is now? Surely he’s following our live coverage, in which case we salute you and your Mobilbvetta kit, which I’m sure you still wear. He was, if memory serves me the European Under 23 champion the year before.
The 2000 edition of the race was a sprinter’s Classic in more ways than one with Erik Zabel claiming the win ahead of Fabio Baldato (ponytail n’ all) and then world champ Oscar Friere.
It was a textbook win for Zabel who’s totally drilled and prepared team led the German out perfectly. Star man on the team was Gian Matteo Fagnini who stayed with Zabel throughout the race, caught the leaders before the finish and then led the German out until 200 meters to go.
To put it into context Fasso that day had a lead out train consisting of Ferrigato, Konyshev, Belli and of course Baldato. Fagnini eclipsed them all.
We all know what Zabel does now, acting a sprint-advisor for Mark Cavendish. If Cavendish has any hope of winning today perhaps his closest ally will be Zabel. Don't write him off yet.
At the start line this morning Tom Boonen told Sporza.be "The fact that I'm favourite in the Gazetta won't count later, it's only the results that count. No-one will think about who was favourite once the winner is known. We'll see if I'm still there after the Poggio; if I am, that means that I rode a perfect race."
Omega Pharma-Lotto's Greg Van Avermaet told Belgian tv he's ready for today's battle right before the start. "The weather is not that good but I'm feeling ok. I feel rested and feel good and we'll see how far I go. Everything today is in service of Gilbert. I can do my own thing but from the Poggio onward we focus on Gilbert, if he feels good we'll surely do everything for him there. From the Cipressa the actual race is on, I'll be in the front and if I can go in a break I will."
The leaders have had their lead cut down to just over 20 minutes as Quick Step have begun to work on the front of the peloton for their man Boonen. They'll wan to keep the leaders in check and bring the gap down steadily. There's still a long, long way to go. By the way the weather is starting to improve in Milan. Perhaps we'll even had sunshine. I hope Stephen Farrand has brought his sun cream.
Conditions on Turchino are wet and grey.
Let's have a look at what you've been saying on Twitter:
kimcando @Cyclingnewsfeed alessandro ballan for a left fielder been warming up the legs for this tirreno. George Hincapie to help out.
MarylineSoupart @Cyclingnewsfeed I think that Matti Breschel has been forgotten for the favourites of the day ;-) !!!
Not sure the Danish Dynamo is a true favourite but if he can get away in a break before the finish we know that he can win sprints from small groups.
The gap is now down to less than 20 minutes. Quick Step and the other chasers are doing just what they need to do.
Stephen Farrand took a few snaps at the start today. Here they are!
For Edvald Boasson Hagen the ideal scenario would be to get into the right breakaway and avoid a mass bunch sprint where the likes of Boonen and Cavendish would come to the fore. He was quoted on Team Sky's website saying: "The best for me is a small breakaway which comes to the finish and a sprint finish." I think he can handle himself in a sprint, don't you?
We hope he’s using his hands-free device because we just called Scott Sunderland who is driving Sky’s lead car today. Here’s what he had to say:
"For today, we have a few cards to play. There is Edvald of course, but also Greg Henderson and Juan Antonio Flecha. Milan-San Remo is a unique race, it's very special. First of all, it is a long and exhausting ride for all riders. It means a constant, intense fight for position. One little mistake can have disastrous effects and blow your chance of winning the race. The real magic of this race is definitely in the finale, it's awfully fast, once you finally get there! My guys are feeling good. It's raining at the moment, but not too cold so it's not too bad. The weather adds another element of difficulty for some, and means a real advantage for others"
Here’s some factoids on our three leaders who have been out in the front since almost the start. Ratti is a 27-year-old Italian from Lecco. He’s been a pro since 2008 but hasn’t won a race. It probably won’t happen today but he’s putting in a great ride.
Piemontesi was actually born in Switzerland but we believe he races under the Italian flag. He’s 26 and this is his first year riding for Savio. Like Ratti, he hasn’t won a race yet but he has been close a few times, including ninth in the 2009 Giro della Romagna.
Meanwhile after 111km the lead has been cut to 18.10.
Stephen Farrand is radioing through and telling us, "It's dry on the coast but cloudy and grey. More like winter than spring'. Over and out Stephen.
Stephen also caught up with some riders at the start today. Here's what 2008 World Champion Ballan had to say: "I prefer the sun and dry because it's far less risky. We'll have to be careful on the descents and I'll be near the front on the descent of the Turchino.
Cav told CN's Farrand: "I'll just see what happens and see what I can do. The Cipressa will be the key to my race." That's pretty honest from the HTC-Columbia sprinter. He'll need to stay with the leaders on the final climbs if he wants to win but if you put in 300 meters from the line alongside anyone in the World and he'll give it everything he has.
Crash!!! We're not sure how many riders when down but we are hearing that Barredo (Quick Step) came off the worst and that he may have retired from the race. That's bad new for of course Barredo but also Boonen.
Our three leaders won't know about the crash and they're about to start the Passo del Turchino with a lead of 16.25
Lets have another email. This is from Chris (thanks):
I disagree that Boasson is categorically better to go in a move. A move, he will be with other strongman, and then tactics can be a potluck, you also have the neutralizing of the group strongman, as other's mark him, a natural handicap if you will. In a field sprint, say, with 30 riders, I think Boasson is the strongest rider, bar Cancellara in the move. Without the super leadout man, like Hincapie, Cav could be susceptible to being out positioned, poorly positioned, or boxed. See Boonen over the last 2 seasons. His ability to position himself, in a field sprint, either at the Tour or elsewhere, is weak, when there are a plethora of field sprinters contesting, and a strong train.
This email is from Harry Butler:
"I love the live coverage you guys do of races, keeps me up in the land down under but without you i would not get my cycling fix, so many thanks for the awesome job.
I've got a bit of a wild card for the race, looking at his form in TerrinoAdriatico and the nature of the way he rides, my pick as a Katusha back up and if Pozzato ain't on song is Ignatyev, if he gets the gap before the run in to the finish and is not working to hold Pozzato on wheels then, Boom a Russian winner."
That's a great shout Harry. He is a real wild card but he has good form and could catch a few people by surprise.
Good news. We're hearing that Barredo is back on his bike. As soon as we know more we'll let you know. We're hearing unconfirmed reports that the gap has dropped to 13 minutes. That could be because the three leaders are climbing.
At the top of the Turchino the leaders are 12.10 ahead of the peloton.
Don't forget to send your emails in to firstname.lastname@example.org You can also bug us on Twitter too. Let us know who you're tipping for today. As a reminder, here's who the CN crew went for:
Daniel: Cunego 66/1
Susan: van avermaet 60/1
Laura: Breschel 40/1
Richard; Ballan 50/1
Peter: paolini 60/1
Stephen: Bennati 16/1
Les: Davis 80/1
Sue: Rollin 100/1
Greg: Petacchi 14/1
The riders are on the decent now and the gap is coming down even more now. It's 10,50. Our leaders have been out there since the third kilometer. Lets hope they can survive a bit longer and get some TV time for their sponsors. They deserve it. As the pace increases behind the tension is going to start cranking up. We've got a race on our hands.
Via Twitter: J_C_Higgins @cyclingnewsfeed I'd *like* Ballan to win today. No predictions though. You and CN's Richard Tyler too. He's got a month's wages riding on the Italian. Kidding.
Ray, from Melbourne, emails and asks: "Any sitings of Italy's special breed of cattle? The Chianina (pronounced kee-a-nee-na) may well be one of the oldest breeds of cattle in existence. Please note that they are not to be confused with the Milram riders who are a special breed themselves."
Not yet Ray but we've pulled Stephen Farrand away from the race and he's on the look out.
We're receiving news that there was a big slit on the Turchino and that Garmin's Maurilo Fischer has crashed. Out of the race with a broken collar bone. Bad news for rider, team and Farrar.
The leaders are now on the coast but their lead has been cut to 8.25 to the peloton. However the bunch has been split in two and there's a second group 9..25 back on our three leaders.
Fischer is on his way to hospital.
Ladies and gents we have race on our hands. The three leaders are struggling and the next climb is the Le Mànie after 204 kilometres. They 125km to go but Cavendish has already been dropped and HTC are powering on the front to bring him back. He's in the second group.
81 riders are in the first chase group. HTC still chasing hard behind. Is it all over for Cavendish?
Cunego (Lampre) is also in the group with Mark Cavendish.
The bunch split after pressure from Katusha on the front.
Advantage Boonen! Hincapie and Boonen are both in the first chase group, which is 3.18 back on the leaders now. The Cav/Cunego group are a further 42 seconds back.
Andy Schleck is also in the Cavendish/Cunego group. To be honest he's not had good form this season after missing so many races through injury.
Some of you have asked about Barredo since his crash. We called Quick Step and he's still in the race.
Thanks for all the emails you've sent in - really too many for us to print. Why not head over toour forums
where you can put down your favourites and also win a fantastic prize?
Filippo Pozzato is in the lead group along with Hincapie, Boonen and at least four Liquigas riders.
The three leaders are on the Le Mànie but their day almost looks done. Their lead, having peaked at over 20 minutes is now down to just two. We have 100 kilometers still to race.
This has the makings of an epic Milan-San Remo. There's so much fog on the road today and right now Pozzato is sitting in second wheel. He's looking strong.
We can see the three main groups out on the road. The three leaders maybe have 30 seconds on the Pozzato group. Cav's group are maybe 40 seconds further back.
Petacchi and Benatti are also in the Cavendish/Cunego group.
And it's all over for our three leaders now. They've been caught by the bunch. The riders have been in the saddle for over 5 hours today.
We still have two groups on the road. Cunego's face is covered in dirt and dust from the road. He doesn't look like he's having a good time out there.
Also in this lead group is Cancellara, Bennati and O'Grady. The two Saxo guys are having a quick chat.
Bennati is munching down some food. He'll be hoping for a sprint finish. He's not in the best of form but he has shown some signs of returning to his best.
Baden Cooke is also in the lead group. Looks like he may have had a crash earlier today though.
Meanwhile Boonen is in the middle of this lead group.
Hats off to Diego Caccia (ISD). As soon as he's caught he goes to front and is now riding full gas for his team. Probably for Visconti.
The gap between the two groups is still holding at around one minute.
Tyler Farrar told the press at the start: "I do hope for a mass sprint today. The bad weather might makes things more complicated though. I always want to win but it's new for me to race almost 300km. But my form is good. The team will be there to help me. The last km might be hectic after all those hours on the bike. Vansummeren is the right man to sit behind for the sprint, he's that tall I can hide behind him ell. Tom Boonen is in top form and I hope for a nice sprint against him."
It looks like Cavendish, might, might be back with the lead group now. No confirmation yet but it looks like the peloton is back together now.
We still have the Cipressa and Poggio to come. We'll see some real fireworks there as some of the weaker sprinters and better climbers try and make their moves.
Confirmation. It's all back together.
As soon as the peloton gets back together and we have an attack. He's French and he's wearing number 22. Maxime Bouet come on down!
I've mentioned the final two climbs but don't forger the Capo Mele, which is coming up soon.
The peloton won't worry too much about the lone AG2R rider. However there's a small counter attack with Monfort, Hoj and Dmytro Grabovskyy. Some dangerous names there.
Seven riders have formed a group between the leader and the peloton.
There's still that long line of Liquigas riders on the main field. They'll try something later on the climbs I'm sure.
Bouet is working well on his own and has a minute on the chasers already. AG2R were very strong during Paris-Nice and they're carrying that form here too.
Simon Clark (ISD) is back with the race doctor. He had a crash a few kms ago.
The seven leaders are working but not as well as they could. Now they're attacking each other. with Grabovskyy running out of patience and making a move.
Grabovskyy is coming up to the back wheel of Bouet... and he's gone right by him. The other six chasers have been caught. Grabovskyy is a talented riders, obviously he's had his problems in the last few years but he's riding well.
Maxime Bouet (AG2R) has been reeled in and Nibali (Liquigas) is on the front and hammering out a strong pace.
Grabovskyy (ISD) heads through a town square, supporters on either side encouraging him but he's still only got half a minute. Things are getting a bit nervy behind him. It's time to pay attention if you want to win this race.
Grabovskyy still looks pretty smooth as he taps out an even pace. he'll be hurting inside. Meanwhile Cunego is moving to the front and Pozzato still looks relaxed.
If you're a favourite you don't want to show yourself at the front just yet. Boonen is around twenty riders back, teammates around him. Riding smart that Belgian is.
I think the teams are listening to my commentary. Sky and Cervelo have come to the front now. Pozzato sitting in second wheel. They have three kms until they hit the Cipressa.
Change in the CN commentary box as Susan comes in. Thanks for reading!
Thanks for bringing us this far, Dan!
We are climbing now -- wil we see some sprinters falling off the back?
The pace has just picked up, as Katusha and Liquigas turn up the speed.
The field is stretched out single file, but still pretty much all together.
Cavendish is still in the group, but is being passed by many, many riders.
Well, Cavendish is no longer really in the group. But also Visconti has fallen off the back.
Gerdemann, Ballan are both in the group. Liquigas leads th eway up.
For those of you actually, on the scene, you can meet Garmin riders at the Transitions store in Salmoiraghi & Vigano in corso Matteoti 56 after the race.
Lampre has now moved into the lead -- holding things together for Petacchi.
Down they go now, all flying along in single file. Gaps are starting to build....
A handful of riders have pulled away, including Pellizotti.
The group has been caught, but we now have three riders ahead. And Yoann Offredo of FdJ is now in the lead.
Offredo has 20 seconds on the pack.
This large field of favourites is flying along and not about to let anyone get too far away.
All the top names are there: Boonen, Cancellara, Chavanel, Burghardt, Breschel, Freire, and more.
Also Milram's Gerdemann is there.
The final climb of the day, the Poggio, is rapdily approaching.
Offredo now officially enters San Remo!
Katusha's Kim Kirchen now leads the pack.
Only 10 km to go, and Offedo holds on to a lead of 18 seconds. The first chase group is some 20-30 riders, then there is a larger group some 30 seconds back.
Boonen and Petacchi are riding side by side -- checking out the competition.
And now they re going up, and at a very good pace.
Offredo is on a steep section, but still going.
Petacchi is going up third, with Boonen also in a good place. But the group will catch Offredo any second now.
And he is caught.
Garzelli now leads the group, followed by two Lampre riders.
They are still climbing. The group of favourites has a 20 second lead over the next chase group.
An HTC-Columbia rider now takes off -- Michael Rogers.
He doesn't get away, and we haev the next attack: Philippe Gilbert.
Garzelli now falls off the back. Pozzato leads the pack.
The field of favourites looks to be pulling apart on the descent.
The group is still 20-25 riders, with all the top sprinters: Boonen, Petacchi, Ballan, and so on.
Nibali has pulled away, and there is a group of four in th lead now. Breschel and Cancellara are moving up to try and join them.
THe five in front have only a few seconds lead.
Nibali is taking a lot of chances on this descent, but he is one of the best in the business at descending.
Nibali takes off, followed by Pozzatto. Pozzato catches him and tkeeps on going.
Can Pozzato hold on his lead for two kms?
No. He is caught.
Liquigas leads the way under the flamme rouge.
All the top names are right where they should be -- won't be long now!
Bennati leads, Freire in third position.
Freire takes off and opens the sprint. He keeps on going and going and --- takes another Milan-San Remo win!
Boonen was pedalling furiously but couldn't get anywhere near the Spaniard in the Rabobank jersey.
That was the third MIlan-San Remo win for Freire. He seems to win in three-year intervals, having previously won in 2004 and 2007.
It was a huge gap for Freire, several bike lengths. And we have confirmed Boonen second and Petacchi third.
What an impressive move by Freire! The others had no chance against him.
That is Freire's fourth win so far this year. He won the Cala Millor at the Mallorca Challenge and two stages at the Vuelta a Andalucia.
Here are the top five:
1 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
2 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
3 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini
4 Sacha Modolo (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox
5 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini
Congratulations to Oscar Freire, and to all the others who managed to finish this difficult and long race. Thanks for reading along with us!