It is always difficult to predict the winner of Milan-San Remo but this year?s centenary edition of ‘La Classicissima’ is wide open with many of the 200 riders in the race potential winners of the first big one-day classic of the season.
Milan-San Remo is the longest race on the professional calendar at 294kms but it is also one of the easiest races to finish because of the relatively flat and very fast course across the Lombardy plain and then along the Mediterranean coast towards the French border. The sprinters have dominated the race in recent yeas by controlling the attacks on the Cipressa
and the Poggio coastal climbs and then using their speed on the Via Roma finish. However, many riders and experts feel this year?s race could see the sprinters left empty handed with a decisive attack going clear before the finish.
For one reason or another the sprinters do not seem to be at their best. 2005 winner Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) is still struggling to win sprints after smashing his kneecap in last year?s Giro d?Italia and seems to lack the power, speed and team to dominate the sprint like he did in 2005. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) beat Petacchi in the early season sprints this
year but he is also struggling with back problems and retired early from Paris-Nice after failing to win a stage.
New sprinters such as Daniele Bennati (Lampre) and JJ Haedo (CSC) have emerged and shown their speed, and the likes of Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole), Robbie McEwen (Predictor) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank) are always a threat, but there are serious doubts about their sprinting ability after 294kms of racing and question marks about if their teams can control the race.
As a result the pre-race advantage seems to have tipped towards the more aggressive riders like Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), 2006 winner Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) and double Tirreno-Adriatico stage
winner Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval).
They are all promising to attack either on the Cipressa or the Poggio and are desperate to get ride of the pure sprinters before the finish. Bettini revealed he will be riding with a cracked rib after a crash at Tirreno-Adriatico and further problems in training on Thursday but he also revealed that he feels in great form and hopes the adrenaline of the racing will null the pain in his ribs.
Pozzato has moved from Quick Step to Liquigas and is now absolute leader of the Italian team. He had a quiet Tirreno-Adriatico but could be the most dangerous rider in Milan-San Remo because he can go with the attacks and still come up with a powerful sprint finish. He showed his class by coolly beating Tom Boonen to win Het Volk and would love to be the
first Italian to win Milan-San Remo for two successive years since Loretto Petrucci in 1952-53.
?I?d like to be the next one to do it. I feel good and think I?m fitter than I was when I won last year,? he said on Thursday.
?My favourite is Daniele Bennati because he has improved a lot and I noticed that Petacchi was riding well in the hills, but it?ll be up to the other riders to get ride of the pure sprinters before the finish or at least make them tired before the sprint. I?d love to win again in a sprint finish but I know it?s going to be an aggressive race this year.?
British riders will be join any attacks by the likes of Pozzato and Bettini and for the first time for many years there will be four British riders in the race after the late call-up of Steve Cummings for the Discovery Channel team.
For the first time for 20 year?s the riders will take part in an official team presentation in the centre of Milan and then the race will start in the shadows of the Milan castle in the city centre. As ever all the action will happen in the final half hour of the race but it will be an intense half hour of spectacular action before the breath-taking big blast up the Via Roma.
There will be detailed reports from Milan-San Remo on cyclingweekly.co.uk on Saturday from our man in Italy, Stephen Farrand.