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98th Milano-Sanremo - PT

Italy, March 24, 2007

La Classicissima: Italy's famed one-day sprint showdown

By Gregor Brown

Pozzato celebrates
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Milano-Sanremo is the first of five Monuments and the highlight of every sprinters season. The Italian one-day race is one of the legends in cycling, not exactly for its terrain, but for it length, its history and that it is the longest classic on the modern day calendar. This year the race, just under 300 kilometres long, will be celebrating its centenary edition and in that time it has seen some big names cross the line, punching the air in victory.

Glance down the race's past winners and you will see the who's-who of international and Italian cycling. Riders like Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck, Francesco Moser, Sean Kelly and Mario Cipollini.

The 98th Edition, March 24, will start in Milan, although this year the start has been moved closer to Piazza Duomo, in Castello Sforzesco. The castle is home to many of Milan's refugee cats and a great place to shop for fake Prada handbags, but Saturday it will be the home of the partenza of La Classicissima. Leaving the glitz and glamour of Milan, the riders will roll along the race's traditional parcours.

Out of Milan the peloton, numbering 200 riders, will cross the Lombardy plain and Po River. This is mostly a flat run through Pavia and onwards to the race's first appointment, the Passo del Turchino (532m). The mountain pass, 24 kilometres long, is a force to be reckoned with but a little too early in the race to be a deciding factor, however, we should see a break-away well established by the summit, which leaves 151 kilometres to go.

Passing the summit of Turchino, out of the 180m tunnel, the riders will smell warm salt air blowing north off the Mar Ligure (Ligurian Sea). Shortly after they will be cutting along the edge of the coast, hustling towards San Remo. The sprinters will start to send their henchmen to the front to control the pace over i Capi.

I Capi are the three following climbs, the Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta, which are the appetizers to the San Remo showdown, the Cipressa (240m) and Poggio (169m). Leaving Alassio, through the palm trees, the Capi, along with the narrow and twisting roads, will split off the weaker riders, and anyone with a chance will want to be in the top thirty of the peloton to avoid disaster.

Once the race hits Imperia the race will be on the verge of exploding. The remaining climbs, Cipressa, at 21.6 kilometres to go, and Poggio, 5.7, are not all that tough but after 260 kilometres of racing they will be felt deep in the riders' muscles. Men like Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Igor Astarloa (Milram) and Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Prodir) will try to launch their attacks here, amongst the cheering fans that will pop out of the roadside bars as the spectacle passes.

Francesco Moser won in 1984
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Last year the winning move was formed over the Poggio, Filippo Pozzato followed the attack of compatriot Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital) and away they went, with Pippo holding off the sprinters on the Via Roma in San Remo. This year, after switching teams, he will have the backing of the full Liquigas squad, which includes the likes of Luca Paolini and Enrico Gasparotto.

Milram and Quick-Step will likely control the attacks to bring the race to a sprint for 2005 winner Alessandro Petacchi and Belgian Tom Boonen, respectively, but both of those teams will also have men to follow the attacks over the final two climbs. Milram has local rider Mirko Celestino and Quick-Step has 2004 winner and current World Champion, Paolo Bettini.

Petacchi will be aided by four-time winner Erik Zabel in the sprint but those two may be over-powered by a younger sprinter. Daniele Bennati of Lampre-Fondital, who bettered Petacchi three times in the Vuelta Valenciana last month, will have confidence and the support of teammate Ballan.

Cyclingnews will be providing live coverage of the 98th Milano-Sanremo, commencing 10.00 CET (Central European Time) March 24, as well as a detailed report, results and photos shortly after the conclusion of the race.

Photos from the team presentation

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Fotoreporter Sirotti

Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net