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Photo ©: Schaaf

97th Milan - San Remo - PT

Italy, March 18, 2006

Live report

Commentary by Jeff Jones, with additional reporting from Tim Maloney

Live coverage starts: 9:30 CET
Estimated finish: 17:00 CET

09:21 CET   
Welcome to Milan's Piazza S. Ambrogio where we are just about to witness the start of the 97th Milan-San Remo. Yes, it's the longest of the spring classics today - a whopping 294 km between the two northern Italian cities, with a few climbs to spice things up.

The riders will officially start at 9:30 in the Via della Chiesa Rossa ex Dazio, and after riding through the provinces of Milano, Pavia, Alessandrina and Genova, they hit the Turchino Pass (km 143). This is a 532m climb and by this stage, the early breakaway should be well established. Then it's down to the coast for the rest of the journey along the Mediterranean, with several small climbs coming in the final 50 km. Key climbs are the Cipressa (km 272, 240m) and Poggio (km 288, 162m), before the final 6 km rush into San Remo.

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step, Alessandro Petacchi (Milram), Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) are the favourites today, as it's often very difficult to prevent a bunch sprint these days. Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step) will be uncertain, after his crash last week, but if Il Grillo is back to near his good form, he'll be a danger man on the Poggio.

Alessandro Petacchi (Milram)
Photo ©: Davide Tricarico
(Click for larger image)

09:33 CET    1km/293km to go
The race has just started, and the riders are heading through the town, to the official start at Via della Chiesa Rossa ex Dazio. It's quite cold this morning, about 3 degrees, with a cold wind blowing that caught many people by surprise. Most riders were huddled in their buses until 15 minutes before the start, when the sign-in stage became total chaos.

09:52 CET   
This morning at the start, we spoke to Filippo Pozzato (Quick.Step), who was really positive and confident, despite the chilly weather. "Yeah I feel super today. I've got fantastic legs."

Pippo is hoping that he might have his own card to play on the Quick.Step team in the finale today.

10:17 CET   
There's been a bit of rain in the north end of Italy, but San Remo should be dry by the finish. It's a little overcast there now, with a light wind blowing from the east, which should be behind and across the riders as they come along the coast.

10:33 CET   
As we wait for our first update from out on the road, we'll try to discuss things other than the weather.

One rider who is a favourite today is Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto), who cracked a rib a couple of weeks ago when he crashed in the final stage of the Driedaagse van West Vlaanderen, along with Matti Breschel. But unlike Matti, McEwen was able to continue racing, and showed glimpses of form in Tirreno-Adriatico.

We talked to his Australian teammate Henk Vogels at the start today, and he was looking forward to getting moving. "I'm glad to get Tirreno-Adriatico over with," said Vogels. "It was so cold and it was bad weather."

As for his captain, Henk said, "Robbie is quietly confident despite his cracked rib. He feels great; he's been racing a lot this year. He might surprise people how good he is."

10:54 CET    55km/239km to go
The 200-strong peloton has covered some 55 km of the 97th Milan-San Remo, as it makes its way through the province of Pavia. It's still cool, but it'll start to get warmer now as the sun starts to poke through.

We're not sure if there's been an early break yet.

11:13 CET   
We talked to Discovery Channel's Matthew White today at the start. After a couple of years with Cofidis, White is back with Johan Bruyneel's team, and although he hasn't been in action a lot so far, his time starts now.

"Yeah, I haven't been racing much this year. Now I'm going to start off. I'm going to be riding all the classics."

Today, like many teams without a top sprinter, Discovery is going to be trying to get into a break towards the end. "We don't really have a leader, we're just here for the ProTour," finished White.

11:32 CET   
The peloton is stacked with sprinters today, including Milram's Erik Zabel, a four time winner of Milan-San Remo. Zabel will likely be working for Alessandro Petacchi today, depending on how things work out. But as Tirreno-Adriatico showed, it's not that easy going from being the final man in the train to the second last one. On several occasions (with both Petacchi and Zabel swapping roles), Milram finished second in Tirreno-Adriatico.

11:55 CET   
Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) has a chance to win today, but it's a slim one, against the sprinters. "I hope it's a hard race today. With Bettini in the race, that could be an advantage for me. On this course, there's not much you can do to invent something, but to win San Remo has always been my dream."

By the way, there's an Italian journalists strike today...

12:04 CET    100km/194km to go
Not all the journos are on strike... one of our photographers, Roberto Bettini is out on the moto today, and reports that there is currently a breakaway of eight riders, who escaped after about 30 km in Pavia. The break includes Daniele Contrini (LPR) , Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis) and Sergey Matveyev (Panaria), and they are riding well together. Quick.Step is riding tempo on the front.

The weather is still partly cloudy and cool.

12:09 CET   
The full composition of the break: Daniele Contrini (LPR), Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel), Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis), Ludovic Auger (Française des Jeux), Kjell Carlström (Liquigas), Mirko Allegrini and Sergiy Matveyev (Panaria), Giampaolo Cheula (Barloworld). They have approximately five minutes lead.

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step)
Photo ©: Marco Bardella
(Click for larger image)

12:18 CET   
There's two cards to play for Quick.Step today. One is the Bettini card with the attack on the Cipressa or Poggio; The other is that Boonen is there in the sprint.

In La Gazetta dello Sport this morning, Paolo Bettini was quoted as saying, "I don't know how I feel. Seven of my vertebrae are compressed and my pelvis is out of alignment by a centimetre and a half after my crash. The fact that I'm racing is kind of a miracle. But I'm ready to go, I'll just see how my legs are and I'll do my best."

For his part, Tom Boonen commented, "To have Bettini in the team for me is really great because it lets me just stay back, wait and play my cards in the sprint with Pozzato and Trenti. Trenti told me that Petacchi is really strong on the climbs, but is not as fast in the sprints this year. I'm not convinced that Zabel will even lead him out.

I'm stronger and better prepared than last year. I'm not going to repeat the same mistakes I made last year when I hesitated in the sprint. Milano-San Remo is going to be part of my palmares."

12:30 CET    124km/170km to go
The latest update we have is that the break is riding at a bit over 41 km/h, and is 10 km from the feed zone in Campo Ligure. At one stage, there were two Milram, two Quick.step and Credit Agricole rider chasing alone. But they decided that wasn't a good thing to do and waited for the peloton. Now, Milram and Quick.Step are expected to do the work.

The last time check is 11'30, and it'll probably get bigger than this.

12:31 CET   
The breakaways again: Daniele Contrini (LPR), Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel), Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis), Ludovic Auger (Française des Jeux), Kjell Carlström (Liquigas), Mirko Allegrini and Sergiy Matveyev (Panaria), Giampaolo Cheula (Barloworld).

12:45 CET    138km/156km to go
The average speed after three hours is reported to be a very brisk 46.1 km/h. That is moving, even by MSR standards!

12:47 CET   
We spoke to Magnus Backstedt, whose Liquigas teammate and fellow Scandinavian Kjell Carlström is in the breakaway. "I've been off the bike for almost a month after my crash in Mallorca," he explained. I've been feeling good training and hope to do something. Our guys are Garzelli, who's always done well in the past. And we're also interested to see what we can do with Luca Paolini."

Paolini was looking very nervous today. He is a past podium finisher at Milan-San Remo, when he helped Paolo Bettini win in 2003.

12:59 CET   
It's Damiano Cunego's first Milan-San Remo today, and the Lampre-Fondital rider will be doing it (mainly) for the experience. "My teammate Paolo Fornaciari is going to take care of me today and show me the ropes" Cunego told La Gazetta. "He said to stay on his wheel and he's going to keep me covered at least until the Cipressa, and maybe even until the Poggio. If I get there with good legs, who knows, I might even try something?"

13:11 CET    150km/144km to go
The eight man break has crested the Turchino Pass now, still enjoying a big advantage over the peloton. We're over halfway into this 294 km classic, and the speed will start to crescendo as we approach the finale along the coast.

13:27 CET   
The gap between the leaders and the peloton is more or less stable, and has actually come down to below 10 minutes.

13:43 CET    182km/112km to go
The riders are still moving along at a very rapid pace, averaging 45 km/h or thereabouts for the first four hours. The break of eight has been pegged back to seven minutes, thanks to the work of the Quick.Step and Milram teams, mainly.

The wind is fairly gusty at the moment, coming from inland. That is helping the riders along the coast road.

13:55 CET   
Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel will be trying to put their sprinting muscle to good effect today, but it won't be easy. Petacchi said at the Milram press conference yesterday, "I'm better than last year, stronger. With Erik I have a good feeling. It's a new team and I want to win Milan-San Remo. That's my objective."

14:07 CET   
Leonardo Bertagnolli (Cofidis) won an uphill stage finish in Tirreno-Adriatico, and is expected to make a big attack on the Poggio today. Bertagnolli confirmed that, saying to La Gazetta, "My San Remo starts on the Poggio. I'm really hoping to be there with the first riders. And then I'm going to try and drop everyone with a big attack. If that's what happens, then that's what happens. I think I've got the courage to make that kind of attack."

14:24 CET    220km/74km to go
Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital) has had a big year so far. He won Laigueglia, and finished third in Tirreno-Adriatico. He's should be a big factor in the classics this year, and wants to do something today. "I'm going to stay calm and in the bunch until San Lorenzo al Mare, then be in front on the Cipressa," he said to La Gazetta. "I'll see how things go, and then maybe be in a position to do something on the Poggio. It's hard to change the character of Milan-San Remo, but I'll give it a try."

14:33 CET    223km/71km to go
The break is slowly, but definitely getting clawed back by the fast-moving peloton. The last time check was 5'30 after 219 km. We have well under two hours of racing to go now.

14:53 CET    243km/51km to go
We're now into the final 50 km, and the various Capi, starting with Capo Mele at 52 km to go. The tension is definitely mountain in the peloton, as only it can in Milan-San Remo.

15:00 CET   
The group of eight has now just three minutes lead as they ride over a railway bridge. The two Panarias in the group are working hard, especially Matveyev.

15:01 CET    245km/49km to go
Quick.Step's Wilfried Cretskens is working with his teammates on the front of the much, along with Poitschke and Knees (Milram). They peg it back to 2'18.

15:03 CET   
Paolo Bettini is well placed near the front. Nick Nuyens rides up beside him and does a turn.

The eight leaders again: Daniele Contrini (LPR), Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel), Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis), Ludovic Auger (Française des Jeux), Kjell Carlström (Liquigas), Mirko Allegrini and Sergiy Matveyev (Panaria), Giampaolo Cheula (Barloworld).

15:05 CET    248km/46km to go
A couple of Credit Agricole riders drop off the back, probably for a puncture. Belotti is one of them. Thor Hushovd is Credit Agricole's man for the day. He beat Petacchi head to head in Tirreno-Adriatico.

Cortinovis (Milram) leads the charge on the Capo Cerva.

15:05 CET   
Contrini does a strong turn on the descent, urging the others in the break onwards. It's down to two minutes now, and falling.

15:07 CET   
Contrini on the front again, then Etxebarria takes over. Matveyev is next, followed by Carlström and Cheula. Scheirlinckx is sitting on the back, looking a bit stuffed.

15:08 CET    251km/43km to go
Is that TA winner Thomas Dekker in last wheel in the peloton? Surely not.

Nuyens does another turn in the big group, which is quite strung out now.

15:09 CET   
Auger cruises through for his turn, as the gap shrinks to 1'50. They're approaching the Capo Berta now.

15:11 CET    251km/43km to go
Nuyens is still stomping on the front of the bunch, with an Acqua e Sapone rider on his wheel. The World Champion Tom Boonen is well placed, along with Oscar Freire.

It is Thomas Dekker at the back. Not really the place to be at the moment.

The waves crash onto the beach at San Bartolomeo al Mare as the eight leaders hit the Capo Berta.

15:12 CET    253km/41km to go
The Capo Berta climbs 130m, and the break loses a lot of steam. It's not easy with 250km in your legs! It twists inland and the peloton is now very close behind, surrounded by motorbikes. The gap can't be much more than a minute now. Nuyens still leading the bunch.

15:12 CET    253km/41km to go
The Capo Berta climbs 130m, and the break loses a lot of steam. It's not easy with 250km in your legs! It twists inland and the peloton is now very close behind, surrounded by motorbikes. The gap can't be much more than a minute now. Nuyens still leading the bunch.

15:14 CET   
Max Van Heeswijk (Discovery) sits towards the back of the bunch, moving backwards. Lampre-Fondital has put two riders up front behind Nuyens. Stangelj and Napolitano.

Scheirlinckx has been dropped from the lead group, where Allegrini and Etxebarria have attacked. Contrini is also chasing them.

15:16 CET    255km/39km to go
Allegrini and Etxebarria reach the top of the climb and pick up speed on the descent. The remnants of the break chase at 15 seconds.

15:16 CET    256km/38km to go
Nuyens leads the bunch over the top just 52 seconds behind the two leaders.

15:18 CET    260km/34km to go
Etxebarria and Allegrini race through the streets of Imperia, and will hit the Cipressa very soon. They will surely be caught there.

Stangelj has taken over from Nuyens on the front of the bunch, but the Quick.Step man is still in second wheel.

15:20 CET   
The bunch files through Imperia, and there's a crash on a roundabout for a Naturino rider. Massimiliano Mori. He didn't quite get around that roundabout. He's lying on the ground, being attended to.

15:21 CET   
Mori sits up now, and is talking, but has a bloodied eye.

Meanwhile, Etxebarria and Allegrini are nearly on the Cipressa, where they are caught by Contrini, Cheula, Auger and Carlström. The other two are caught by the bunch.

15:23 CET    265km/29km to go
The six leaders look back to see where the peloton is. It's very close. Bettini is sitting next to Freire as they race along at 60 km/h. Vinokourov is up there too. Maybe planning an attack on the Cipressa. Lampre and Quick.Step are doing most of the chasing, while Magnus Backstedt brings up a few of his Liquigas teammates.

15:24 CET    266km/28km to go
Nuyens is still doing a hell of a lot of work though.

Look out for Ballan on the Cipressa. Maybe that's what Lampre is planning.

16 seconds now. It's almost over for the break.

15:25 CET   
Allegrini powers again, splitting the break and getting rid of Carlström and Etxebarria. Four riders left. But here's the bunch...

15:26 CET    266km/28km to go
Contrini gives it one more try and the break is swallowed with Mario Aerts (Davitamon) leading just before the Cipressa.

15:28 CET   
It's still Lampre-Fondital in charge, stringing out the bunch en route to the 240m Cipressa. Here we go through San Lorenzo al Mare, gruppo compatto.

15:29 CET    267km/27km to go
Liquigas has put Paolini in position now, as Zanini gives Stangelj a bit of a push. The Cipressa begins.

15:30 CET    268km/26km to go
Bettini tests his legs as Wrolich attacks first. He's joined by Garzelli, from Liquigas. He's out of the saddle and powering away. A Barloworld rider in pursuit, Alex Efimkin.

15:31 CET    269km/25km to go
Garzelli (Liquigas) drops Wrolich (Gerolsteiner) and A. Efimkin (Barloworld) on the Cipressa. Behind, it's Rabobank controlling things. Then Frank Schleck moves up for CSC.

15:32 CET   
Just Garzelli left in front now, as the other two are caught. Boonen looks good in the peloton, which is on the brink of catching Garzelli. Frank Schleck performs the coupe de grace. Then another Gerolsteiner rider goes off: Andrea Moletta.

15:33 CET    270km/24km to go
Bertagnolli, Schleck, Bettini, Gusev, Moerenhout are all up in front of the bunch as Moletta gets a bit of a gap, maybe 10 seconds. He's out of the saddle, looking good.

15:34 CET   
Kashechkin is also towards the front of the bunch as Arvesen powers off with Pozzato on his wheel. Moletta is caught and drops back. Mazzanti moves up next to Pozzato. The bunch hangs together.

15:35 CET    271km/23km to go
Boonen is now on Pozzato's wheel, looking very very good. Bettini in third - it's all Quick.Step. Freire sits in fourth, while Petacchi is not too far back. They're nearing the top of the Cipressa, and no-one has really been able to get away.

15:36 CET   
Pozzato continues to look good as he tows Boonen. Very good.

The back of the peloton looks somewhat ragged. Vinokourov is dropped.

15:38 CET    272km/22km to go
It's been a pretty solid tempo up this climb, and the bunch has reduced to maybe 60-70 riders. There'll be a regrouping before the Poggio, surely.

Pozzato has done most of the damage. The time for the climb is about 9'50. That's an average of about 30 km/h.

15:39 CET    273km/21km to go
Carrara (Lampre) is now attacking over the top as a second peloton follows the first at 20 seconds. Bettini leads the chase, and catches the Italian.

15:40 CET    274km/20km to go
Bettini continues to set the tempo, so maybe Quick.STep is putting its eggs in the Boonen basket today. 20 km to go, and there's no easing off now.

15:41 CET    276km/18km to go
Alejandro Valverde is another rider up in this front part of the peloton, which is in one long line on the descent of the Cipressa. They take the sharp left hander near the bottom, Bettini leading all the way.

15:43 CET    277km/17km to go
Bettini finally sits up and lets a Milram rider to a turn. But he looks back immediately to see where Petacchi is. Moerenhout attacks for Phonak. He has Schleck on his wheel, then Trenti and Vicente Reynes (Caisse d'Epargne).

15:44 CET    278km/16km to go
Sacchi leads the bunch, panicking a bit as he has no teammates to help. The four get 10 seconds. Thomas Dekker leads the second bunch back to the first.

15:45 CET    279km/15km to go
In front, we have Moerenhout (Phonak), Trenti (Quick.Step), Schleck (CSC), and Reynes (Caisse d'Epargne). Trenti is not working, of course.

15:47 CET    280km/14km to go
The four stretch their lead out to 15 seconds as Giordani (Naturino) tries to chase them, without success. Milram has regrouped on the front of the bunch and has got the chase in hand. Sacchi and Velo.

One of the Caisse d'Eparnge riders yells at a moto to get more than five metres away from the peloton. This is Italy, and Petacchi is the man, after all...

15:48 CET    281km/13km to go
The moto is certainly helping the peloton chase! Oh well, nothing new.

Lampre is assisting the Milram chase, while Moerenhout and co keep their 15 second gap. Trenti is doing nothing on the back.

15:49 CET   
The Caisse d'Epargne rider in the bunch yells at the moto again. It doesn't take much notice. Well, a bit.

15:50 CET   
The breakaway is getting no help from a moto. There's no Italians in it (OK, Trenti, but he's working for Boonen, and he's technically USA).

22 seconds. An interesting situation.

15:51 CET    284km/10km to go
The three leaders hammer along the flats en route to the Poggio. It's 60 km/h and they look good. Schleck moves up.

15:52 CET    285km/9km to go
10 km to go, as Fred Guesdon tries to bridge the gap between the bunch and the break. No chance. The Poggio approaches. They're on it! the leaders still have 20 seconds.

15:53 CET    286km/8km to go
Rabobank (Dekker, E.) hammers on the front of the bunch at the foot of the Poggio, as Schleck powers the break. Freire is well up near the front, as is Boonen. 18 seconds.

15:54 CET    287km/7km to go
Moerenhout leads the break 16 seconds ahead of the hungry peloton, which is led by Erik Dekker. The Poggio is taking its toll. Sacchi, Hushovd, Bettini, Gilbert are all up there. McEwen is dropped.

Schleck attacks!

15:55 CET   
Schleck smashes the rest of the break as he reaches the Santuario N.S. della Guardia, nearly missing the sharp corner. He's going full gas, taking another right hander. Eight seconds to the bunch.

15:55 CET   
Hushovd and Boonen look great behind the Rabobank chase, while Petacchi is further back.

Moerenhout is trying to bridge up to Schleck, who is near the top of the Poggio.

15:56 CET    287km/7km to go
It's still Frank Schleck from CSC leading Milan-San Remo, but not by much. 15 seconds.

Petacchi has moved up to the wheel of Boonen. As now, Ballan attacks the bunch. He is marked by Pozzato.

15:58 CET    288km/6km to go
Moerenhout is caught and dropped as Ballan, Pozzato and Astarloa come past Schleck over the top. Nocentini is chasing. The bunch did that in about 5'50. Schleck is still there, in about 5th, with Samuel Sanchez.

15:59 CET    289km/5km to go
5 km to go and Ballan, Pozzato, and Astarloa take the descent of the Poggio with 15 seconds over the peloton. Milram is leading the chase behind.

16:00 CET    290km/4km to go
Boonen is still well placed near the front of the bunch, just behind the Milram train.

Sanchez, Nocentini and Schleck are chasing the three leaders at 5 seconds.

16:00 CET   
4 km to go and Nocentini and Schleck rejoin the leaders. And Sanchez. Six leaders.

16:01 CET    291km/3km to go
Our lead group: Ballan, Pozzato, Astarloa, Nocentini, Sanchez, Schleck. Milram is chasing them hard, but will it have enough firepower? Anyone's race now. Schleck has to unclick around a corner.

16:02 CET    292km/2km to go
Gilbert, Cunego and Boonen follow the Milram ride on the front of the bunch. This is going to be hard to pull the leaders back, but you never know. Pozzato looks good, as does Astarloa. They're on the flat now. Watch for Ballan.

16:03 CET    292.5km/1.5km to go
Sanchez comes through for a big turn and now Milram has three riders, including Zabel on the front. A Credit Agricole rider - Hinault - comes past for a big turn.

The break is hesitating. Ballan attacks with Schleck and the rest mark him. 9 seconds.

16:03 CET    293km/1km to go
Sanchez counters, then Astarloa marks him with Pozzato. This will be insanely close. Sanchez is caught. 1 km. the peloton is there, led by Rabobank.

16:04 CET   
The peloton reaches the back of the break with 700m to go and it's Rabobank leading it out.

16:04 CET   
Nocentini leads, no, then Pozzato takes a flyer from 300m. He has a gap. But he's hurting. But he wins Milan San Remo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

16:05 CET    294km/0km to go
Pippo Pozzato has won Milan-San Remo with an amazing sprint in the last 300 metres. Petacchi finishes second. Woah.

16:07 CET   
That was remarkable, really. Rabobank had things in hand, catching the break, but then Nocentini jumped from about 400m out. Pozzato had no choice but to go, starting with maybe 15-20m headstart. He held off Petacchi all the way to the end. Quite comfortably, in fact. Boonen finished fourth, just nipped by Paolini, and threw up his arms as he saw his teammate win. Next year, perhaps, for Boonen.

16:20 CET   
Well, that wraps it up from San Remo's Via Roma, where Quick.Step has scored another victory in Milan-San Remo. No-one can take this one away from Filippo Pozzato: he rode a great race, working for Boonen on the Cipressa, then getting into the crucial break on the Poggio, keeping his cool and finishing it off with a great sprint to hold off the bunch.

Stay tuned for more live action next weekend with the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen and Brabantse Pijl. Ciao!


1 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Quick.Step           6.30.42
2 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Milram
3 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi
4 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick.Step
5 Danilo Napolitano (Ita) Lampre-Fondital
6 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
7 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Liquigas
8 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre-Fondital