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By Staff
Date: 3/24/2007

Hello everyone, and benvenuti to the centenary edition of Milano-Sanremo. Back in the days of April 1907, 33 riders assembled in front of the Tavern Conca Fallata, in Milan's picturesque Navigli district, around 4.00am, and kicked off one what was going to become one the of the most well-established traditions in the sport of cycling. One hundred years after Lucien Petit-Breton put his name in the MSR roll of honour, the ingredients are still the same: legs, saddles, wheels, brakes, spurts, passion, sprints, attacks, counter-attacks, triumphs, humiliations, fists in the air, tifosi on cloud nine, and so on, and so on, and son on ... And even the Osteria Conca Fallata is still there, feeding the hungry and quenching the thirsty in Milan's Via della Chiesa Rossa (literally "Red Church Street") where the 2007 "Classicissima di Primavera" (roughly translatable as "Spring Super Classic") got underway early Saturday morning local time (Central European time, that's going to turn into Central European Summer Time tomorrow Sunday, by the way).

One hundred ninety-seven riders from 25 different Pro Tour (and not Just Pro Tour) teams lined up for the start today, ready to take in the flatlands of the Milan and Pavia provinces of Lombardy, meet the first hilly landscapes as they get into the Alessandria province of Piedmont and make their way through the Fausto Coppi area, tackle the Turchino on the way to Liguria, and start their westward run along the Riviera coastline towards via Roma, with the capi (small coastal climbs) first and the Cipressa and Poggio ascents - and descents - later having the potential to give all those going for a mass sprint a damn hard time in the saddle.

Also this race was preceded by polemics, which the ongoing quarrel between the UCI/Pro Tour organizers and the top race (Giro d/Italia/MSR in this case) organizers might be not strangers to: only 13 teams out of 25 - Tinkoff, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Unibet, Lampre, Barloworld, Saunier Duval, Panaria, Bouygues Telecom, Milram, Astana Acqua & Sapone, Team LPR and Liquigas - attended the teams presentation held under the triumphal arc of Milano's magnificent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, straight to the north of Piazza Duomo (Cathedral Square), and got some well-earned applauses from the multi-national (the one writing these lines was also there and could hear Italian, English, French, Spanish, German, Danish and even Japanese spoken) crowd; the remaining dozen, perhaps forgetting for a while the key role all of us fans play in making this sport as great a sit is, thought that wasting some minutes to show off and salute the fans (who happen their own fans too) would be too much of a sacrifice. Kudos to them (sarcasm intended ...).

Reigning champion Filippo Pozzato refrained from making bold statements, even if reading between the lines one could easily catch his eagerness for victory again, while his team-mate Franco Pellizotti was all smiles and extremely available to sign autographs and pose for some pictures with his tifosi (as usual). Alessandro Petacchi was quite adamant: he really needs a prestigious victory to leave his unfortunate 2006 8and even his start to 2007 season wasn't perhaps as good as expected due to his losses to Boonen and Bennati and his no-show at Tirreno-Adriatico) behind. Riccardò Ricco, arguably the biggest revelation in this early season, sounded well aware of the fact that only one man can be the race winner, and chances of that man being himself on such a route are not very high, but nonetheless he didn't refrain from promising that he'll do his best in order to give sprinters a good run for their money.

Thor Hushovd is certainly the most excellent last-minute absentee. The Norse lost all of his chances to put the hammer down at via Roma as a gastroenteritis kept him from being at the start line.

Click for bigger map. Courtesy Gazzetta della Sport.

10:55 cet So they're off and running at last! And they are flying too! The race got off to a fast start, with the field keeping a very high pace and covering 46.1 kilometres in the first hour Elio Aggiano (Ita - Tinkoff) showed that he hasn't lost any of his attacking abilities and started the fireworks first about 4 km. into the race, along with fellow Italians Roberto Traficante (Team LPR) and Alessandro Donati (Acqua & Sapone-Caffé Mokambo) plus Alexandre Usov of Belarus(AG2R).

They were immediately pulled back into the bunch, and the same happened to Kazakhstan's Dmitry Muravyey (Astana), on the move around km. 37 - but Tinkoff, Panaria-Navigare and Française des Jeux drove the peloton back on his wheels - and a further four-man move: Giro del Mendrisiotto recent winner Alexander Dietziker (Swi - Team LPR), Italian time-trial sensation Marco Pinotti (T-Mobile), fellow countryman Daniele Contrini (Tinkoff) and France's Carlos Da Cruz (Française des Jeux) couldn't gain more than a dozen seconds on the pack, that didn't give them any green light.

The peloton rolling off Pavia city early into the race.

11:00 cet New region, same ways: three more riders had a go at making the break as the MSR crew reached Piedmont: Massimo Codol (Ita - Acqua & Sapone), Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Panaria-Navigare) and earlier attacker Roberto Traficante (Team LPR, on the attack again) earned a few minutes of media exposure at Pontecurone (km. 67, Alessandria province) but their attempt proved fruitless too.

11:15 cet A more solid group of 16 guys, amongst them even a certain Alessandro Petacchi (!!!) put in the next move slightly after km. 70. But Quick Step-Innergetic and T-Mobile were very quick in their reaction, and the group turned compatto again in the twinkling of an eye.

Same pack. Same place (San Martino Siccomario,
on the outskirts of Pavia) C.

11:30 cet Looks like we've got a first true breakaway group! Andrei Kunitski (Blr - Acqua & Sapone-Caffé Mokambo), Koen De Kort (Hol - Astana), Emanuele Sella (Ita - Ceramiche Panaria-Navigare), Pavel Brutt (Rus - Tinkoff), Aitor Hernández (Spa - Euskaltel-Euskaltel) and (surprise, surprise) Roberto Traficante (Ita - Team LPR), sneaked off the field and in the space of just few kms managed to put 01'23" into the bunch, that apparently had enough of wasting their legs chasing down all those early moves.

11:50 cet The powerful tailwinds on the parcours (winds are blowing over also Via Roma at Sanremo, by the way) are helping the fugitives (and the bunch) keep a high average speed - 46.2 km/h two hours into the race - and also helping super-active Roberto Traficante as well as Pavel Brutt, Emanuele Sella, Koen De Kort, Andrei Kunitski and Hernández the man in orange increase their advantage exponentially. The gap just ballooned to over six and a half minutes. Similarly to AleJet before, Robbie McEwen briefly made the headlines in an unexpected way: the Aussie attacked the peloton and took a dozen seconds out of them. He was soon brough back into the field however.

11:55 cet 101 km into the race - and with 193k to go - while winding through the Piedmontese town of Basaluzzo, the six-strong front group (De Kort, Traficante, Hernández, Sella, Brutt and Kunitski) extended their advantage over the not-chasing peloton to a good seven minutes and 25 seconds.

It's getting a bit rainy at Sanremo and surroundings in the meantime. Should the weather stay the same or event get worse, it could make things dangerous for the riders on the Poggio descent into town; but hopefully this won't be the case.

12:05 cet The presence of one man from Team LPR up front, as well as earlier attacks from other guys of the Italian squad, didn't come as a surprise: as the Giro d'Italia 2006 runner-up José Enrique "Buffalo" Gutiérrez Cataluña said at the teams presentation yesterday, the MSR parcours may not suit his skills and those of most teammates of his, but the Spaniard and all the boys in black and green are well aware of what being in the peloton in this race means to the team. And they're successfully doing their best to prove that their presence here is well deserved.

12:10 cet The half-dozen ahead keep making gains on the field, but muuuuuch less sloooooowly than before: Pavel Brutt (Rus), Roberto Traficante (Ita), Emanuele Sella (Ita), Aitor Hernández (Spa), Andrei Kunitski (Blr) and Koen De Kort (Hol) lead the gruppo by 07'40" at km. 114, on the way to the Appennine hills. Via Roma is still 180 km away.

Pavel Brutt of Tinkoff Credit Systems is one the best prospects of Russian cycling. Born on January 29th, 1982, and at his second season with the Tinkoff jersey (he previously wore those of other Russian teams: Itera and Lokomotiv) the boy powered to victory in the GP Chiasso-Casinò Admiral in Switzerland in early March, ahead of no less than Davide Rebellin.

12:32 cet For the first time since 1991 it's raining at via Roma on MSR-day. With 26 km to the summit of the Turchino, the six frontrunners Brutt, Traficante, Sella, Kunitski, De Kort and Aitor Hernández hold onto a margin of 07'51" on the bunch. Okay, it's no small lead, but we used to see much bigger ones at this point of the race in many Classicissimas of the past.

Speaking of past editions, it was Claudio Chiappucci that, after giving Greg Lemond and all other main favourites a hard time at Le Tour the summer before, won some more tifosi in Italy as he triumphed at Sanremo back in the days of 1991. Rolf Soerensen and Eric Vanderaerden of Belgique/Belgie were with him on the podium that day.

12:55 cet The field put in some kind of reaction. What Pozzato's Liquigas, Petacchi's Milram and all other top teams are now mainly aiming for is stop leaders De Kort, Hernández, Brutt, Traficante, Sella and of course Kunitski from making any further gains. The gap was hovering around 07'40" at the foot of the Turchino.

We mentioned José Enrique Gutiérrez Cataluña in previous posts. We have to write about him again. Unfortunately. El Bufalo, as he's nicknamed in Spain, fell just a few minutes ago, at km. 135, and was consequently forced to pull out of the race. Also France's Frederic Guesdon got involved in the same accident, with the same consequences; the Francaise des Jeux rider is no longer in the peloton either.

13:05 cet The breakaway made it to the top of Passo del Turchino, and the guy with the best climbing legs in such sextet, Panaria's Emanuele Sella, unsurprisingly took first. They have stepped onto Ligurian soil, and keep a seven minute advantage as they're taking in the descent into the Genoa suburb of Voltri, where they're going to meet the sea and start their westward run to Sanremo.

13:08 cet The average speed after three hours of racing was a more than decent 45.2 kph, btw. More riders stole the show in an unwelcome way as there was another pile-up on the last portion of the Turchino: Guennadi Mikhailov (Rus - Astana), Marco Fertonani (Ita - Caisse d'Epargne) and early attacker Daniele Contrini (Ita - Team Lpr) hit the tarmac, and unfortunately Contrini had to join "The Buffalo" and France's Guesdon in the list of DNFers.

Speaking of Claudio Chiappucci, the guy is currently far from the saddles. And even from the team cars hosting so many former professional riders that chose the Directeur Sportif way (often successfully). Still the warrior from Varese knows how to make the headlines, as a few months ago he was a contestant of L'Isola dei Famosi, Italian version of the Celebrity Survivor (pseudo)reality (pseudo)show. The Indurains, Bugnos and Lemonds he used to be up against in the early 1990s were replaced by a bunch of former showgirls, former stars (sort of) of the Italian music scene, former TV personalities and some young male/female models looking for a quite easy way to get some TV exposure. His Celebrity Survivor bid was as successful as his Tour de France overall bids: the man did not get the win. But even in that "contest" on an island off the coast of Honduras, or wherever the show took was taking place, he proved to be one of the toughest guys in the "peloton". And the man remains a topic of discussion for the Italian fans, also the non-hardcore ones.

13:27 cet back to race now: the six-strong lead group (Sella, Brutt, Traficante, Kunitski, De Kort and Aitor Hernández) reached the seaside resort of Arenzano to the west of Genoa, but first chasing efforts from Liquigas, Lampre-Fondital and Milram are starting to have some impact: the gap was cut down to 06 minutes and 25 seconds. And expect it to get smaller and smaller as they progress along the Ligurian coastline.

13:37 cet 170 km gone / 128k to go. The leaders are down to five as all previous efforts (early moves before getting into the right breakaway included) are beginning to take their toll on Roberto Traficante's legs. The young Italian from Team LPR lost contact to the front group at Piani d'Invrea, and was trailing the "fab five" still ahead by half a minute at the most recent check.

Andrei Kunitski (Blr - Acqua & Sapone-Caffé Mokambo), Koen De Kort (Hol - Astana), Emanuele Sella (Ita - Ceramiche Panaria-Navigare), Pavel Brutt (Rus - Tinkoff Credits System) and Aitor Hernández (Spa - Euskaltel-Euskaltel) stay in the lead.

13:41 cet Roberto Traficante was the first attacker to wave white flag, and it's not going to take long for the peloton to bring the boy back. Speaking of the peloton ... we have to speak of more riders falling: this time it was the turn of Italy's Paolo Longo Borghini (Team Barloword) and the Basque Iban Mayoz (Euskaltel-Euskadi) to taste the tarmac, thankfully without severe consequences; the two guys are back in the saddle, and into the main group, now "only" 06 minutes and 14 seconds down on Brutt, Sella, Kunitski, De Kort and Hernández. The average speed slightly dropped to 44.1 kph.

13:52 cet Surprisingly enough, the gap kept going up again as the race made it into the Savona province of Liguria. Brutt, Sella, De Kort, Aitor Hernández and Andrei the Belarusian can boast their advantage of 07 minutes and 35 seconds as they wind through the seaside resort of Albissola Marina (km 181 / 113 km left).

14:09 cet You can be sure that the peloton will NOT catch Roberto Traficante ... the Team LPR rider just dropped out of the race. He stole the show first with his attacks, and membership of the "breakaway of the day", but as all efforts above left his legs empty, he realized that he wasn't going any far. And made the decision to get off his bike. The other escapees continue their courageous march to the west instead. Pavel Brutt, Emanuele Sella, Andrei Kunitski, Aitor Hernandez and Koen De Kort were leading the pack by 07'22" at the 100k-to-go check.

14:18 cet With 200 kilometres covered already, but still over 90 to be covered, it seems the peloton is getting much more serious about the chase. The inseguitori (pursuivants in case you prefer the French way) have brought the gap down to six minutes in the last few kilometres as the race made it to the town of Noli. Capo Mele, the first of the "Capos" where some gaps could start to be made also in the pack, is just 42 kms away.

14:32 cet The seaside resort of Finale Ligure, usually welcoming thousands of families from north-western Italy in summertime, just welcomed the race: first Pavel Brutt, Emanuele Sella, Koen De Kort, orange warrior Aitor Hernández and Andrei Kunitski, and 04 minutes and 52 second later it was the turn of the strung out peloton. Where some Rabo-boys moved to the front to help the chase and work for their MSR leader who is - need I say it? - a certain three-time World Champion from the Spanish town of Torrelavega, that goes under the name of Oscar. And the surname of Freire. Ah, we're about 79 km from the line, btw.

The year 1982 got one more rider in the breakaway group: Mister Koen de Kort, born on septmber 8th, 1982 at Gouda, The Netherlands. As a young gun, he was one of the Mini-Rabos, and the winner of the 2004 Paris-Roubaix Espoirs. But he joined the pros in the days of 2005 with Liberty Seguros, just to open his account in a Tour de l'Avenir stage. When the Spanish team, as a result of the "Operación Puerto" and other not pleasant affairs, "became" the Astana squad, he "joined" the ranks of the Switzerland-based team, that bears the name of Kazakhstan's capital city. Period.

14:54 cet the Lampre-led pack keep closing down the gap on Sella, Kunitski, De Kort, Brutt and Aitor Hernández, whose advantage fell to 03'35" at the Ceriale check (70 km to go). See ya soon with the next (and more frequent) updates.

14:55 cet It stopped raining at Via Roma, but the risks of having some weather-linked unwelcome surprises in the last portion of the race are still quite high.

15:00 cet 64 km to go as the five fugitives keep a slim margin of three minutes of the group of well-organized chasers (with plenty of teams helping) on the wet streets of Alassio. And - here we go again - there's one more pile-up inside the field. The tarmac took its toll on the bunch again. Riccardo Riccó is caught in the pile-up. He's soon back in the saddle, as much as all other riders involved but Sebastien Hinault of France.

15:05 cet The Fab Five up front hit the first small coastal climb, the Capo Mele. The peloton is almost completely back together after the abovementioned pile-up. Boonen's Quick Step and Bennati's Lampre are now driving the chase. It won't take too many minutes for the pack to bring the fugitives back. The gap hovers around two minutes.


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