Oscar Freire breaks Italian hearts at the Milan-San Remo

By Steve Mitchell

Oscar Freire

The first of the big spring classic races has gone to Spain with Oscar Freire taking his third Milan-Sanremo title.

‘La classica di primavera’ is an Italian obsession and one of the most prestigious races on the cycling calendar. The opening spring classic event is the longest one day race on the calendar, a brutal 298km with two of the most famous climbs in cycling, the Cipressa and the Poggio di Sanremo, featuring in the final 20km of the race.

Teams with the big sprint men were heavily represented as historically, the race has been won by men who can get over the two final ascents and have powerful finishing speed. Britain’s Mark Cavendish, who won the race in spectacular fashion 12 months ago, wore the number one on his back but was not expected to repeat his heroics of last year. This was due to his lack of fitness caused by an abscess which required major dental treatment — he would be using this event as a warm up for the Giro D’Italia in May.

The host country’s hopes seem to rest with Lampre’s Alessandro Pettachi, winner in 2005, Filippo Pozzato of Katusha, a winner in 2006 who has shown some excellent early season form and Daniele Bennati of Liquigas.

A group of three riders — Diego Caccia of the ISD team, Aristide Ratti of Carmiooro NGC and Fabrice Piemontesi of Androni Diquigiovanni — got into an early break and at one stage the gap had gone out to over 20 minutes, but the peloton were marking their card with over three quarters of the race still to go. As the peloton reached the ascent of the Passo Del Turchino at 142km, the leader’s advantage had been cut to just over 12 minutes. A crash then split the peloton into two chasing groups — Cavendish had been caught up in the melee and had been cut adrift in the second group.

The other big names had all avoided trouble and were in the first group of chasers. To his and the team’s credit, Cavendish got back to the main pack as the peloton reeled in the three fugitives out in front. The race had started in damp conditions, improving in the mid sector, but as the two big climbs approached the sky darkened even more and spots of rain began to fall.

As the peloton got on to the Cipressa, Liquigas, led by Franco Pellizotti took control of the race with Bennati being kept out of trouble. The main overseas challenge was being spearheaded by Quick Step, who were riding for Belgium sprint king Tom Boonen, Team Cervelo, whose main protagonist would be Tour De France Green jersey winner Thor Hushovd and Britains Team Sky, who had Norwegian sensation Edvald Boassan Hagen and Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha amongst their ranks.

With the Cipressa behind them the peloton moved towards the final climb of the Poggio di Sanremo. Rabobank now came to the fore with their man Oscar Freire looking more and more threatening. The nerves were being frayed amongst the leaders, Pozzato attempted a counter-attack knowing in his heart of hearts that he could not out sprint the likes of Pettachi, Bennati and Boonen, but it came to no avail. Cavendish was out of the reckoning and Hushovd’s challenge seemed to disintegrate on the final climb.

As the riders headed into the final kilometre Liquigas had failed to get their man Bennati into a winning position and it looked like the race was going to be a straight shoot out between Pettachi of Lampre, Boonen of Quick Step and Freire of Rabobank. As the line approached, the 34- year-old Freire made his move, Pettachi tried to cut him down but Boonen got in front of the big Italian. From nowhere, another Italian sprinter, Sacha Modolo of the Colnago team, looked like he had gate crashed the party but Freire held on to take his third Primavera title.

Boonen came in second with Pettachi third. Modolo was the big surprise in fourth with Bennati a disappointing fifth – Thor Hushovd arrived in sixth. From a British point of view, it was a disappointing day with Cavendish finishing over seven minutes back in 89th and David Millar of the Garmin Transitions team arriving in the same group in 105th place. This most famous of Italian sporting spectacles had again provided cycling fans with some memorable moments.

Milan-San Remo – Top 10
1. FREIRE GOMEZ Oscar ESP RABOBANK 6.57’28
2. BOONEN Tom BEL QUICKSTEP 6.57’28 0’00
3. PETACCHI Alessandro ITA LAMPRE – FARNESE VINI 6.57’28 0’00
4. MODOLO Sacha ITA COLNAGO – CSF INOX 6.57’28 0’00
5. BENNATI Daniele ITA LIQUIGAS – DOIMO 6.57’28 0’00
6. HUSHOVD Thor NO CERVELO TEST TEAM 6.57’28 0’00
7. GINANNI Francesco ITA ANDRONI GIOC. – DIQUIGIOVANNI 6.57’28 0’00
8. IGLINSKIY Maxim KAZ ASTANA 6.57’28 0’00
9. GILBERT Philippe BEL OMEGA PHARMA – LOTTO 6.57’28 0’00
10. PAOLINI Luca ITA ACQUA & SAPONE 6.57’28 0’00

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