There is a storm brewing at Milan-San Remo and it is not just the strong wind that is expected to blow off the Mediterranean and play a factor in the final part of the race along the coast on Saturday.
The talk in the peloton is that this year a break of some kind will manage to escape the control of the bunch and mean the 99th edition of the Classicissima does not end in a sprint finish.
Riders like 2006 winner Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas), Philippe Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux), Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), Paris-Nice winner Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and especially Tirreno-Adriatico winner Fabian Cancellara (CSC) have all promised to make the 298km race harder than in recent years and made it clear that their race strategy will include attacks on the Cipressa, on the Poggio, and in Cancellara?s case on the descent and in the final kilometre.
World champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) is also promising to attack but he is suffering with a cold and so his team-mate and apprentice Giovanni Visconti will be allowed to ride his own race.
The extra climb of La Manie, although 94km from the finish, is expected to test the sprinters and stretch their teams a little bit more, boosting the morale of the attackers, while the extra 500 metres at the finish offer an extra chance to get away before the line.
Pozzato won Milan-San Remo in 2006 with a late attack on the Poggio but the race has ended in a mass sprint seven times in the last ten years.
Oscar Freire (Rabobank) beat Allan Davis (Discovery Channel) and Tom Boonen (Quick Step) last year in the Via Roma but Pozzato is out to change the dynamic of the race.
?This year we can?t let the sprinters get their own way again. Fortunately there are a lot of aggressive riders who are on form this year and who don?t want to give the sprinters an armchair ride to the finish. I think they?re in for a surprise,? Pozzato predicted.
?The extra climb is a long way from the finish but it?s 4.7km long and so will hurt the sprinters? legs a little. I?ve ridden the new finish several times in training. There are two extra corners before the new finish line and so if a rider gets a gap, they could disappear out of sight.?
The big-name sprinters have been keeping a low profile, carefully working on their form in Tirreno-Adriatico without putting themselves under too much pressure.
Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) won an early stage in Tirreno but then avoided taking any risk on the last day in the rain. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) was even quieter and did not contest a single sprint in the Italian stage race. However he is reported to be ready for the sprint and is guaranteed and excellent lead out from double Paris-Nice stage winner Gert Steegmans.
Oscar Freire (Rabobank) was not afraid to show himself in Tirreno, winning two stages and is the biggest threat to both the other sprinters and the attacks in Milan-San Remo. He is strong enough to be in any split that may form on the Manie, Cipressa or Poggio, but also has the finishing speed to win the sprint, and so take his third victory in five years.
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