Cycling: Freire Too Strong At Milan-Sanremo

The 101st running of monument classic Milan-Sanremo looked set to provide an exciting race. With Cavendish way below his best form, the title was wide open. Gilbert, Pozzato and Boassen Hagen were genuine chances to blow the race to pieces with attacks on the Poggio, while a bunch sprint could go to any of Boonen, Bennati, Petacchi or Freire. Many others were set to try their luck with a rare breakaway win or a devastating attack on the short sharp climbs that are key to the Milan-Sanremo.

A three man breakaway tried their luck with unknown Italian riders Piemontesi (Androni Giacatolli), Ratti (Carmiooro NGC) and Caccia (ISD-Neri) breaking away 3km from the start. In a race of almost 300km, this was a suicidal move with zero chance of success. They gained a maximum of 22 minutes on the peloton before they were slowly reeled in. However, for these riders a little coverage for their sponsors was their only goal for the day.

A crash on the descent of the Turchino lead to a 30 man group splitting from the rest of the peloton but by the 60km to go mark these groups were back together and had caught the breakaway. Caccia, clearly not satisfied with setting the pace for the breakaway over 230km set the pace for the lead of these two groups for another 5 kms after being caught. A roleur to watch?

There were several attacks on the flat before the Cipressa, with Bouet and Grabovskyy the strongest, getting each getting gaps of up to a minute. But no solo attack would work this early, with Liquigas feeling good about their chances and forcing the pace. As they started the ascent of the Cipressa, Katusha started to fancy their chances and set about helping Liquigas with their pacemaking.

Once they neared the top, and Petacchi's had shown he had good climbing legs on the day, Lampre set about dropping the other sprinters, with Cavendish one of the first to go. On the descent, the race situation started to become clear. There was a group of around 30 clear at the front from which the winner would come.

Yoann Offredo (FdJ) launched an audacious attack on the descent, but could only get 20 seconds on the group of the favourites. Once the peloton hit the Poggio, Tirreno-Adriatico winner Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) hit the front and pushed with all his might, making sure no one could launch a race changing attack and helping his teammate Luca Paolini. But Garzelli couldn't maintain the rage all the way up, allowing a brief window of opportunity for attackers near the top of the Poggio.

Surprisingly, the first significant attack came from Columbia's Rogers, who had obviously been given the freedom to ride his own race with Cav out of the picture. Gilbert and Nibali both tried attacks, but neither could pull clear far enough before the descent. Pozzato was ever present, following every attack hoping one would go clear, but today was not to be for the puncheurs. Nibali and Pozzato both tried desperate, Cancellara style attacks in the final two kilometres, but the chasing pack was too strong.

Liquigas rider Oss lead the bunch leadout from 1.5km to 500m from the line, where he eventually had no more to give. Bennati came off his wheel and tried to kick like his life depended on it, but Freire came from behind him to win by more than a bike length.

Boonen tried hard to out-do Freire, but one suggests that he is more desperate for the cobbled classics and he had to settle for second place. Petacchi managed to grab the final spot on the podium and special mention must go to Sacha Modolo (Colnago) who came from a long way back in the sprint to get 4th. Modolo has definately marked himself as one to watch for the future, given he is only 22 and in his first year as a pro.

Congratulations must go first and foremost though to Oscar Freire who wins his 3rd Milan-Sanremo as well as 3 World Championships, marking himself as one of the great riders of this generation. Notably, it has been 11 years since his first World Championship win in 1999 showing exceptional longevity. And it seems he is well liked in the peloton (especially by Andy Schleck after a bet with Baden Cooke).

Fun Facts: The tunnel at the top of the climb near Genova was not lit, meaning riders had to ride in the pitch black. Unsurprisingly there was a crash.

Youtube Highlights (With Italian Commentary):
Part 1:

Part 2:

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