My MSR Preview

Mar 23 2007

Time for the last round of MSR previews. Eurosport gives the most straightforward look, while Velonews calls the race “shy a few participants” while naming only one absenteee (Basso). Pez describes the chances of every bike racer ever, but neglects to pick a favorite. But enough of my incessant badmouthing. Americans like to blather about how it’s not the critic who counts, and so, with no further adieu, here is my Sanremo preview:

I consider Milan-Sanremo as something of a litmus test for cycling fans. If you think the race should start at the bottom of the Cipressa, complain about the length, or lament the lack of climbs, you don’t get it. MSR is a comprehensive challenge – it tests fitness, power, endurance, bike handling, strategy, team strength, race savvy, and toughness. About the only things it doesn’t test are the watts/mass @ threshold and aerodynamic profile so crassly commoditized during the Armstrong era; sadly, this the extent of many people’s appreciation of the sport.

It is also called a “sprinters’ classic”; again, this is an oversimplification. Yes, since 1996, just over half the Sanremos have finished in a bunch kick, but in those races, only four exceptional sprinters have taken the title: Erik Zabel (6x TdF points champ), Oscar Freire (3x World Champ), Mario Cipollini (42 Giro stages) and Alessandro Petacchi (9 stages in the ’04 Giro). This race isn’t simply a gift to the sprinter of the moment – in final 30k, relentless speeds, constant attacks, a vicious descent, and the 260k of racing previous put the fast men on level footing with the rest of the field until the final 200m.

So, who’s going to win it this year? Bettini is almost off the list with a broken rib. Stuart O’Grady tried Flanders like that once and it didn’t go so well. Milram seems to have cashed in Zabel and Ale-Jet’s chips already, though the German seemed quite optimistic when he was interviewed on his team webpage. Cipo’ himself singles out Bennati and Freire, though I think the former hasn’t quite got the big race experience to pull it off.

Honestly, I don’t see this year’s race coming down to a sprint. The big name sprinters are too iffy and the likely escapees (with the exception of Bettini) too strong. Because riders like Freire, Zabel, and O’Grady can make attacks and follow moves nearly as well as they sprint, the pure classics riders will have their hands forced, and the decisive break will go early – on or before the Cipressa.

Favorites’ teammates, thinking the attack is too early, will attempt to mark and sit on in this move, and if one manages, I see a proven rider in a support role (Rabobank’s Flecha or VanBon, CSC’s Kroon, Milram’s Celestino, Paolini from Liquigas – assuming the fancy bike means they’re riding for Pozzatto) taking victory. I’d pick Paolini, but I don’t think he has the Eye of the Tiger – so let’s say Flecha.

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