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100th Milano-Sanremo - HIS
Italy, March 21, 2009
By Gregor Brown
La Classicissima travels 298 kilometres from Milano to Sanremo. It is the first of five traditional Monuments of cycling (the others are Paris-Roubaix, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Giro di Lombardia).
Many champions have topped the podium in Sanremo since Frenchman Lucien Petit-Breton was the best of 14 finishers in the race's first edition, in 1907. There is a who's who of international cycling following Petit-Breton in the race's list of winners: riders like Gino Bartali, Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck, Laurent Fignon, Sean Kelly and Mario Cipollini.
If the 2009 edition ends in a sprint there are more riders than ever who could contend for the magical win. Italy's Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) is top on the list. He has three wins so far this season and looks stronger than previous years, but he will face two strong competitors: Alessandro Petacchi (LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini) and Tom Boonen (Quick Step).
Petacchi, the 2005 winner of Sanremo, beat Bennati in the last two head-to-head battles and appears to be back to his 'Ale-Jet' ways. Boonen has only two wins so far this year, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and a Tour of Qatar stage, but the 2005 World Champion from Belgium is always up for winning cycling's big ones.
Mark Cavendish (Columbia-Highroad) is the fresh face up for the Sanremo title. He is capable of battling Bennati, Petacchi and Boonen any day, but since this is his first time to race the 298 kilometres from Milano to Sanremo he cannot be counted in as favourite numero uno.
"I have never done that type of distance before," said Cavendish after he won the final stage of Tirreno-Adriatico, four days prior to Sanremo. "It is one of the Monuments, one of the biggest ones. I am only 23 years old so it will be more for experience."
Other sprinters include Cervélo TestTeam's Thor Hushovd and Heinrich Haussler, Italian Mirco Lorenzetto (Lampre-NGC), Australians Allan Davis (Quick Step) and Robbie McEwen (Katusha), and America's Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream).
Pozzato (Katusha) is the most capable of launching an attack in 2009; the other two big attackers – Cancellara (Saxo Bank) and Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-NGC) – are both off their best due to medical setbacks.
The return of Le Mànie at 94 kilometres to go will help break up the sprint trains. Besides Pozzato, look for the attacks to come from Philippe Gilbert (Silence-Lotto), Davide Rebellin (Diquigiovanni-Androni), Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini), Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), Luca Paolini (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) and Enrico Gasparotto (Lampre-NGC).
Others to watch are Stuart O'Grady (Saxo Bank), Francesco Ginanni (Diquigiovanni-Androni), Gerald Ciolek (Milram), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Columbia-Highroad), Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto) and Danilo Napolitano (Katusha).
Astana's Lance Armstrong is returning to La Classicissima after seven years and a three-year break from cycling. The American has little or no chance of winning (in fact, the oddmakers give him 100:1), but his presence will light up the departure Saturday morning, as it will at the 100th anniversary of the Giro d'Italia in May.
The sprinters' men hit the front following Le Mànie and confront I Tre Capi– Capo Mele (52.4km), Capo Cervo (47.1km) and Capo Berta (39.6).
The steep Capo Berta leaves only 17.5 kilometres before the Cipressa, where the race will be exploding with nervousness. Contenders will need to be in the top thirty of the group to avoid mishaps on the tight roads. After I Tre Capi the Cipressa (22.1km) and Poggio (6.2km) are the traditional race ending climbs.
The climbs of Cipressa (234m of climbing) and Poggio (154m) are not that difficult, but after nearly 300 kilometres of racing their slopes will leave a mark on the riders' legs and they should help produce a spectacular result.