Oscar Freire (Rabobank) claimed his third and most emphatic victory in the Italian Classic, Milan-San Remo, on Saturday afternoon. The Spaniard positioned himself perfectly for a sprint finish from a select group of 25 riders to defeat race favourite Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini).
Despite several spirited attempts by riders to get away on the ever-decisive Poggio, the favourites all regrouped in the three-kilometre dash towards the finish. Liquigas entered the final kilometre at the front, but it was a cagey Freire who benefited most from the lime green lead-out as he leapt out from third wheel to finish a bike length clear of Boonen.
"I think I deserved to win my first win Milan-San Remo because Zabel wasn't the same rider he had been," said Freire, as he compared his 2004 and 2007 wins with his latest title. "The second Milan-San Remo went really went and I did a great sprint. This year it was the same. I think I had good form. I was scared of the finish because it wasn't on the Via Roma, which I prefer. Fortunately it went well."
Snap, crackle and pop on the Poggio
The sprint finish defied pre-race predictions of late attackers being able to stay away, though, it was not for lack of trying. A nervous-looking peloton appeared willing to delay hostilities on the Cipressa, and despite a move by Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) towards the top of the penultimate climb, it wasn't until the Poggio that all-out war commenced.
A bold move by Yoann Offredo (Francaise des Jeux) on the descent off the Cipressa was met just kilometres later, on the Poggio, with a stampede from a Stefano Garzelli-led peloton. As the Acqua & Sapone man swung off, Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) tore off the front of the race, with Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) launching their own counter-attacks.
Pozzato led the race over the summit, but as he began the descent, the proximity of his rivals made it clear that a sizable group was going to make it to the finish. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) led a hair-raising descent into San Remo and although he took Pozzato, Gilbert, Thor Hushovd (Cervelo TestTeam) and Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank) with him, the race once again came back together as the terrain flattened out for the final kilometres.
Freire admitted afterwards that this regrouping was key to his eventual victory. "The most difficult moment for me was on the descent of Poggio," he said. "Pozzato got a gap with five or six others. I was scared they'd stay away. Then when he attacked I knew I had to just find a good wheel because I couldn't chase him. That was the only way I could win was in a sprint."
A final flourish from Nibali was answered by Pozzato, who went clear with two kilometres to go. After a moment's hesitation by the pack, Liquigas took responsibility for drawing the Italian Champion back once more as its team led the way into the final kilometre. Around a minute later, Freire slid out of their slipstream and sprinted across the line for yet another famous victory at La Classicisma.
"The statistics say that Milan-San Remo finishes more often than not in a sprint and so the sprinters have to wait for the sprint. There are always attacks, for sure, but there always are a lot of sprinters who want a sprint finish. A team like Liquigas could have done everything, go on the attack or wait for the sprint. They opted for a sprint but we all took advantage of that.
"When I started the sprint I knew I was in a good position and had good legs for it," he said. "I'd been worried about being blocked in like two years ago but this time the right people were up there for the sprint and I found the right wheel. Bennati went, but I don't think he had the legs today."
And so it begins
Just under seven hours earlier, the peloton had left a drizzly Milan for their journey to the coast. With the flag pulled in, the customary early attack followed just three kilometres down the road. Unsurprisingly, it was an all Italian affair as Fabrice Piemontesi (Androni Giocatolli), Aristide Ratti (Carmiooro NGC) and Diego Caccia (ISD-Neri) used the outskirts of Milan to make good their escape.
With almost 300 kilometres on the day's agenda, the trio were given a wide berth. Lampre-Farnese Vini, Liquigas-Doimo, Katusha and HTC-Columbia were the teams patrolling the front of the peloton behind, but their tempo was tranquil enough to allow the leaders to push out to over 22 minutes. However, as they approached the Passo del Turchino the leaders' time gap commenced its gradual retreat.
Quick Step now making themselves visible at the front of the main group, the time gap began to drop. The leaders began the climb with 16:25 and they finished it with a little over 12 minutes. There was no rush to shrink that gap further, and the leaders were still out in front on the slopes of Le Mànie, with 100 kilometres to go. But their advantage was now a meagre two minutes.
While the leaders had been making their way between the Turchino and Le Mànie, the race behind had split after a crash on the descent of the Turchino, with reigning champion Mark Cavendish caught in the latter selection. The Briton's HTC-Columbia squad immediately came to the front in order to limit the damage. While Cavendish's men set to work, Murilo Fischer (Garmin-Transitions), who had also crashed in the incident, left the race with a broken collarbone.
As attention focussed on the gap between the pelotons, the leaders were brought back by the front section of the grim-coated group at 81 kilometres-to-go. Caccia, who had spent more than 200 kilometres out in front, had clearly developed a penchant for that position in the race. The Italian took point duty at the front and controlled the tempo of the 30-strong group for another five kilometres.
With no-one in the mood to push the pace in the front group, the two halves of the peloton reformed. But at 60 kilometres to go AG2R-La Mondiale's Maxime Bouet decided to attempt mission impossible as he fired off the front. The young Frenchman quickly built a 20-second buffer, which he gradually stretched out towards 40 seconds. Dimitri Grabovskyy (ISD-Neri) was one of the first to answer the move as seven riders attempted to bridge across to the lone leader.
Grabovskyy was the only one able to catch Bouet. He made brief contact before storming past the AG2R rider on the Capo Berta. Unfortunately for the Ukrainian, the peloton had started to sharpen the pencil and it wasn't long before he too was recouped after the town of Imperia, with 37 kilometres to go.
With Grabovskyy caught and the peloton once again back to status quo, Milram led onto the Cipressa and into what would be a fantastic finale for Freire.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank||6:57:28|
|2||Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step||Row 1 - Cell 2|
|3||Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 2 - Cell 2|
|4||Sacha Modolo (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox||Row 3 - Cell 2|
|5||Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 4 - Cell 2|
|6||Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team||Row 5 - Cell 2|
|7||Francesco Ginanni (Ita) Androni Giocattoli||Row 6 - Cell 2|
|8||Maxim Iglinsky (Kaz) Astana||Row 7 - Cell 2|
|9||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 8 - Cell 2|
|10||Luca Paolini (Ita) Acqua & Sapone||Row 9 - Cell 2|
|11||Matti Breschel (Den) Team Saxo Bank||Row 10 - Cell 2|
|12||Anthony Geslin (Fra) Française Des Jeux||Row 11 - Cell 2|
|13||Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Astana||Row 12 - Cell 2|
|14||Geoffroy Lequatre (Fra) Team Radioshack||Row 13 - Cell 2|
|15||Paul Martens (Ger) Rabobank||Row 14 - Cell 2|
|16||Yoann Offredo (Fra) Française Des Jeux||Row 15 - Cell 2|
|17||Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank||Row 16 - Cell 2|
|18||Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 17 - Cell 2|
|19||Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Team Milram||Row 18 - Cell 2|
|20||Pablo Lastras Garcia (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 19 - Cell 2|
|21||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step||Row 20 - Cell 2|
|22||Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing Team||Row 21 - Cell 2|
|23||Daniel Oss (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 22 - Cell 2|
|24||Xavier Florencio Cabre (Spa) Cervelo Test Team||Row 23 - Cell 2|
|25||Michael Rogers (Aus) Team HTC - Columbia||Row 24 - Cell 2|
|26||Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana||0:00:09|
|27||Thomas Lövkvist (Swe) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 26 - Cell 2|
|28||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 27 - Cell 2|
|29||Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Team Katusha||0:00:18|
|30||Michele Scarponi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli||0:00:21|
|31||Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Team Katusha||0:00:39|
|32||Simon Clarke (Aus) ISD - Neri||0:01:35|
|33||Lorenzo Bernucci (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 32 - Cell 2|
|34||Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 33 - Cell 2|
|35||Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervelo Test Team||Row 34 - Cell 2|
|36||Alan Perez Lezaun (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||0:01:40|
|37||Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Team Radioshack||Row 36 - Cell 2|
|38||Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 37 - Cell 2|
|39||Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 38 - Cell 2|
|40||Francisco José Ventoso Alberdi (Spa) Carmiooro NGC||Row 39 - Cell 2|
|41||Niki Terpstra (Ned) Team Milram||Row 40 - Cell 2|
|42||Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Transitions||Row 41 - Cell 2|
|43||Juan Jose Oroz Ugalde (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 42 - Cell 2|
|44||Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Team HTC - Columbia||Row 43 - Cell 2|
|45||Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 44 - Cell 2|
|46||Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 45 - Cell 2|
|47||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 46 - Cell 2|
|48||Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 47 - Cell 2|
|49||Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Por) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 48 - Cell 2|
|50||Christian Knees (Ger) Team Milram||Row 49 - Cell 2|
|51||Markus Fothen (Ger) Team Milram||Row 50 - Cell 2|
|52||Karsten Kroon (Ned) BMC Racing Team||Row 51 - Cell 2|
|53||Wesley Sulzberger (Aus) Française Des Jeux||Row 52 - Cell 2|
|54||Michael Barry (Can) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 53 - Cell 2|
|55||George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing Team||Row 54 - Cell 2|
|56||Markel Irizar Aranburu (Spa) Team Radioshack||Row 55 - Cell 2|
|57||Sébastien Rosseler (Bel) Team Radioshack||Row 56 - Cell 2|
|58||Jackson Rodriguez (Ven) Androni Giocattoli||Row 57 - Cell 2|
|59||Gabriel Rasch (Nor) Cervelo Test Team||Row 58 - Cell 2|
|60||Bram Tankink (Ned) Rabobank||Row 59 - Cell 2|
|61||Nick Nuyens (Bel) Rabobank||Row 60 - Cell 2|
|62||Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Rabobank||Row 61 - Cell 2|
|63||Oscar Gatto (Ita) ISD - Neri||Row 62 - Cell 2|
|64||Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing Team||Row 63 - Cell 2|
|65||Sébastien Hinault (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 64 - Cell 2|
|66||Rene Mandri (Est) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 65 - Cell 2|
|67||William Bonnet (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom||Row 66 - Cell 2|
|68||Matteo Tosatto (Ita) Quick Step||Row 67 - Cell 2|
|69||Emanuele Sella (Ita) Carmiooro NGC||Row 68 - Cell 2|
|70||Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 69 - Cell 2|
|71||Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quick Step||Row 70 - Cell 2|
|72||Inaki Isasi Flores (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 71 - Cell 2|
|73||Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox||Row 72 - Cell 2|
|74||Mirco Lorenzetto (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 73 - Cell 2|
|75||Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick Step||Row 74 - Cell 2|
|76||Jose Rodolfo Serpa Perez (Col) Androni Giocattoli||Row 75 - Cell 2|
|77||Manuele Mori (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 76 - Cell 2|
|78||Assan Bazayev (Kaz) Astana||Row 77 - Cell 2|
|79||Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 78 - Cell 2|
|80||Benoît Vaugrenard (Fra) Française Des Jeux||Row 79 - Cell 2|
|81||Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 80 - Cell 2|
|82||Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||0:01:49|
|83||Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone||Row 82 - Cell 2|
|84||Dimitri Champion (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:01:54|
|85||Francesco Failli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone||0:03:04|
|86||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-Doimo||0:03:13|
|87||Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 86 - Cell 2|
|88||Steve Chainel (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom||0:05:29|
|89||Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team HTC - Columbia||0:06:12|
|90||Mirko Selvaggi (Ita) Astana||Row 89 - Cell 2|
|91||Giovanni Visconti (Ita) ISD - Neri||Row 90 - Cell 2|
|92||Grégory Rast (Swi) Team Radioshack||Row 91 - Cell 2|
|93||Thomas Leezer (Ned) Rabobank||Row 92 - Cell 2|
|94||Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank||Row 93 - Cell 2|
|95||Maarten Tjallingii (Ned) Rabobank||Row 94 - Cell 2|
|96||Greg Henderson (NZl) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 95 - Cell 2|
|97||Brett Lancaster (Aus) Cervelo Test Team||Row 96 - Cell 2|
|98||Johan Van Summeren (Bel) Garmin - Transitions||Row 97 - Cell 2|
|99||Christopher Sutton (Aus) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 98 - Cell 2|
|100||Cameron Wurf (Aus) Androni Giocattoli||Row 99 - Cell 2|
|101||Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 100 - Cell 2|
|102||Frédéric Guesdon (Fra) Française Des Jeux||Row 101 - Cell 2|