Saturday’s Milan-San Remo went-off without a hitch--despite the weather’s best attempts to ruin the day. After 298 kilometers of racing in cold, rainy conditions, it was a Spaniard who ended-up with the victory. Funny how two men from warmer, sunnier climates have taken wins in two of the season’s grimiest races thus far. Here’s what we learned:
1. I remember watching the 1999 World Championship Road Race in Verona, Italy with friends on a television in my apartment in Leuven, Belgium. When a young, unknown Spaniard surprised a select group of favorites including Francesco Casagrande, Frank Vandenbroucke, and Jan Ullrich, we all felt a bit ripped-off. But after 2 more World Titles, 7 Vuelta stage wins, 4 Tour stage wins, 1 Ghent-Wevelgem, and now 3 Milan-San Remo’s I think it’s time for me to officially apologize to Oscar Freire for years of underrating him. With the changes to this year’s Belgian calendar, Freire has a terrific opportunity to take yet another win in Sunday’s Ghent-Wevelgem—especially since many of his main rivals might choose to take Saturday’s E3 Prijs more seriously. Congratulations, Oscar. I won’t overlook you again—at least for one more week.
2. Tom Boonen was satisfied with a respectable 2nd place in San Remo—even though Freire blew his doors off in the sprint. What impressed me most was Boonen’s positioning on the Cipressa and Poggio—he rode attentively and comfortably at the front of the peloton, consistently placed within the first 10 or so riders. Clearly his form for Flanders and Roubaix has arrived. Unfortunately, I wonder if he might find himself too heavily marked in Flanders to take a third win. On the other hand, it’s essentially every man for himself on the pavé of Paris-Roubaix—at this point only Pozzato, Hushovd, and Cancellara look to have the condition to ride with him there. Then again, those races are still 2 and 3 weeks away—maybe it’s too soon to speculate?
3. As for Pippo Pozzato, he seemed to ride as if he had read the “This will come down to a sprint” writing on the wall. Knowing he had relatively little chances against sprinters such as Freire, Boonen, Bennati, and Hushovd, he seemed content to treat the race’s finale as an opportunity to test his legs on the attack. To be honest, when he rolled-off the front in pursuit of Vincenzo Nibali with 2km to go, I thought he would take his second victory—too bad the rest had other things in mind. At Flanders though, they might find catching up to Pozzato an entirely different enterprise.
4. And speaking of Hushovd, he made the leading group, ultimately sprinting to a slid 6th-place finish. With Flanders and Roubaix still weeks away, Thor looks to have starting his crescendo at just the right time. Unfortunately, it was also announced that he won’t have the support of Heinrich Haussler; his knee injury seems to be worse than expected, keeping out of races until later this spring.
5. Philippe Gilbert’s attack on the Poggio and subsequent 9th place finish confirmed his candidacy for a win in Flanders—Roubaix’s not very suited to his strengths. While his attack had little effect on the race itself, it served noticed to everyone—including the Belgian press—that he’s not to be overlooked.
6. And finally, we must mention Fabian Cancellara, another rider who led a quiet build-up to Saturday’s race. Spartacus rode comfortably with the lead group, finishing the day in 17th place. Like Hushovd, he appears on-track for a solid cobbled campaign.
7. Moving away from the pre-race favorites, Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel looks to be peaking quite nicely. If Boonen finds himself too heavily marked, Chavanel could play Devolder’s role in Flanders, possibly getting the win we all know he deserves. Regardless, his condition means teams will have two Quick Step riders with which to contend; an advantage few teams are able to match.
8. BMC’s Marcus Burghardt was his team’s only rider to finish with the leaders. As he seems to be peaking a bit sooner than his teammates Ballan and Hincapie (both of whom came in with the second group, 1:40 behind), look for him to impress this Sunday in Ghent-Wevelgem, a race he won in 2007. The German has also recorded top-5 finishes in both Dwars door Vlaanderen and the E3 Prijs in the past—it’s a shame they weren’t invited to Dwars, but it still could be a good weekend for the squad.
9. As we expected, Colnago’s Sacha Modolo finishing 4th on Saturday, continuing his string of top results from Tirreno-Adriatico. I know it’s a bit early to talk transfers, but look for him to be snapped-up by a team with an aging sprinter before next season—Lampre and Katusha might be possibilities—especially if he manages to grab a stage win or two in this year’s Giro.
10. Liquigas rode a fantastic race for Daniele Bennati with Vincenzo Nibali and Roman Kreuziger playing roles as prominent as we expected. Unfortunately, Bennati could manage no better than 5th. Clearly he’s a second-tier field sprinter, able to win only when better, faster competition is absent. Stick to Tirreno, DePanne, and the Vuelta, my friend. And by the way, give Liquigas the first “What Were They Thinking?” Award of 2010 for leaving Peter Sagan—a double stage-winner in Paris-Nice—at home.
11. Unfortunately, Tyler Farrar’s performance Saturday might put him in the same category as Bennati—although Bennati made it to the finish with the lead group. If Farrar’s team can’t position him well in a finale as straightforward as Milan-San Remo’s then what will they do in the cobbled classics, races with much more difficult profiles?
Two final thoughts from Saturday:
12. What the heck was Stefano Garzelli doing on the Poggio? Several sources claimed he attacked, but in my opinion he simply set a hard pace—but for whom?
13. Did you notice the prevalence of super-deep carbon fiber rear wheels? If this is indeed a new trend, I don’t get it. But I’m like that.
Time permitting, I’ve got a big week planned for Pavé. Here’s the schedule for the next several days:
Tuesday: Dwars Door Vlaanderen Preview
Wednesday: 5 Questions for the Cobbled Classics
Thursday: Dwars Door Vlaanderen Wrap-up/What We Learned
Friday: Weekend Preview(s) E3 and Criterium International
Saturday: Ghent-Wevelgem Preview
It’s an ambitious program, but I think I’m up for it—at least I hope so.
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