It seems like Paolo Bettini knew in advance the way things would have gone, and was perfectly aware of the importance of having a great team in order to win Milan-San Remo. At least if you listen to both his pre-race (and post-race) interviews.
Giving one early in the morning in Milano, right before the race start, "Il Grillo" said that "To have a good team is fundamental. Some time it's better having a united team, with people knowing how to work well together, than just great individuals with more chances of doing well than the others. Here in Sanremo, in this Milan-San Remo, we have got a particular rider, that's Virenque, with a definite task: we hope he may be in the right place at the right time, as in my opinion, he has the legs and the chances to attack and cause havoc in the bunch. Let's wait and see (what he can do)".
As for another well-known team-mate, e.g.Vandenbroucke, Bettini said that "Frank comes from an excellent Paris-Nice, and will be very important in the last part of the race, I mean the part going from the Cipressa to the finishing line. I'm sure he will be there, and his presence will have much significance, as the whole peloton fears him. A move from him at the start of the Poggio can make things difficult for the other teams".
And during the race Bettini and Quick Step proved they are well-deserved winners, the team because of the great help they gave him most of the time, and Bettini himself due to his attacks and the combativity he displayed in the last part of the contest.
The man explained his behaviour by telling journalists that "I've said it this year, as I did last year and two years ago. MSR is a particular race, and if everyone just keeps waiting and waiting and waiting, then nothing happens: nowadays' sprinters are very fast, but can also hold on in ascents like Cipressa and Poggio. You have to put them in some trouble, and that's the way we did this year, both because of the fast pace set right from the beginning, and the fact we never gave up. The attacks on both Cipressa and Poggio made the selection, and that proved enough for me to get to the finishing line. Last year we were two (in the break, e.g. "The Cricket" and Giuliano Figueras. ). This time we were three, with my team-mate knowing that this could really be the good one".
More words to praise both his current and past teams "This is a victory for the whole Quick Step team. They trusted me, they believe in me. They have helped me a lot since the season start. It's a pity that we had to wait for quite a long time to pick up some good results, but now we have got a great one. Paolini did a masterpiece, but I want to dedicate this victory also to Dr. Squinzi, who never succeeded in winning a MSR in his large career as team patron. It's a pity that he's not here celebrating, but part of this success certainly belong to him"
And eventually Bettini, who's about to become a father in the near future, spent some words for his family too, notably his wife Monica. "she stayed at home after she was told it was better for her not to drive for too a long distance. She didn't watch the race on TV either, as she wanted to keep calm. So she knew of the result by a phone call. A big kiss to her, and see you tonight ..."
If Paolo Bettini is the actual winner of the 94th Milan-San Remo, his young teammate Luca Paolini can be regarded as the moral winner: the Quick Step-Davitamon italian, coming from an extraordinary "Tirreno-Adriatico", had another superb performance in the "Classicissima di primavera"; he stayed with his team-leader, did a huge leadout work for him in the last part of the race, notably in the final sprint, and hit the MSR podium for the first time.
And in post-race interviews a visibly touched Paolini, almost crying for joy, gave a further proof of the way he's an excellent, unselfish team-mate: "I've been longing for such a move since this past winter. We trained a lot together and I did plenty of sacrifices. But it was worth the effort. I'm feeling like I have won today. We knew that getting to the Poggio in a 60-strong or 70-strong group was a danger for us. I gave it all in the Poggio, and Paolo followed me. He was great in doing this, as he had just launched another attack. I pushed hard until the end, as I was sure he was so fast that he would win the sprint. And when I saw him crossing the line, well, it was source of a very big emotion for me. It still is. That's really wonderful".
In pre-race interviews, Danilo Di Luca told a RAI TV journalist that he was feeling good, and promised he was going to attack on the Poggio, after hopefully doing well in the Cipressa too. The Saeco rider lived up to his words, and made his move on the Poggio, but perhaps he attacked too early, or maybe he just found riders in better condition, or on a better day than him.
His team didn't work hard the way the Quick Steps and Cipo's Domina Vacanze domestiques did. But Di Luca has an explanation for that "We decided that we were not going to work too much, as we have already done a lot at Tirreno-Adriatico, so according to (Team Manager) Martinelli's we should stay on the other riders' wheels and make our move in the final part. And I think that in last stage of the race both Celestino and me, but also the whole team gave it all".
As for his solo attack in the Poggio climb, the man from Spoltore said that "Poggio is the last ascent, and I thought it was going to be the decisive one too. Well, it actually was, but unfortunately there was just me and Shefer left in the leading bunch, so I had to made my move early, maybe too early, and the strong winds I found all over the ascent made things harder for me. Sure that I am a bit disappointed. I was on the break with three more riders. they made it to the end, whereas I got dropped".
So, whereas many were expecting Di Luca to have an outstanding result, Saeco's best-placed rider turned out to be Mirko Celestino: the 29-year-old Ligurian, currently based in the Bergamo area of Lombardy, couldn't celebrate his birthday (coming this past Wednesday) with a prestigious win, but nevertheless got an excellent second placing after being a protagonist on the Cipressa ascent, where he launched the first attack, and the Poggio as well.
Interviewed by RAI TV, he said that "My move on the Cipressa was aimed at helping Di Luca making the race harder and more selective. But I noticed he was a little in trouble, so I held on in the Poggio, and remained in the leading trio. Of course, with two Quickstep guys in the break, I couldn't get higher than second. Bettini is much faster than me".
Celestino, who has solid downhill skills too, added that "I was meant to attack on the descent and try to put some time into my break mates, but after almost 300 kms. of riding I wasn't in great condition, so I opted for not taking many risks. I knew I wasn't one of the main favourites for this race. That's because I have not been able to get back to the winning ways of 1999. A fourth place at LBL aside, I didn't show up at all in the recent past. And if you are not there often, fighting with the best ones, people tend to look at other riders. So I'm glad that I showed off my skills today, maybe they will write some things about me again"
Mario Cipollini had more than one reason to go for the win on Saturday: besaides the 2usual2 satisfaction one gets when winning a race, he could get into the exclusive club of cycling legends that won the MSR with the raimbow jersey on their shoulders, and even celebrate his 36th birthday with a prestigious, second consecutive success in the "Classicissima".
The Domina Vacanze-Elitron rider wasted all of his chances though, and could only win the chasing bunch sprint, but after all three podium finishers had crossed the line. In post-race interviews the Lion King, whose roaring was missed by many fans that went to Sanremo hoping to be witnesses to another of Mario's great achievements, and who greeted Bettini right after crossing the line. found some reasons to be staisfied with his performance "I showed I am in a perfect condition and my teammates have done an excellent job, Bennati and Ongarato in particular. I also proved that, even at the age of 36, I can still ride fast. In an eventual bunch sprint, I would have won. But nevertheless I'm very happy that the winner was one of the men who were part of the Italian National team at Zolder"
One race won, one bet lost. Wilfried Peeters, teamdirector of Quick-Step tells this "Primavera" was surrounded with the bet: When Bettini wins, Bramati and Paolini ride their bikes back to Milano... In playing one major role in the very early season (with 4 riders present in the finale of the Omloop 'T Volk) and again two riders in the last breakaway in this Milano - San Remo, and Luca Paolini working in a beautiful way for his teammate Paolo Bettini the blue-grey squadra proves to be a successful one.
Also former world champion Oscar Freire tried to be the first to reach the chalkline in San Remo. In the end he finished seventh. "I tried to get away at the Cipressa. The climb looked never ending to me. It was clear to me that Bettini was the strongest. Everyone was looking at him. 'Vino' (Vinokourov) did not want to do any work and Bettini noticed that was not the one to attack."
Quick-Step manager Patrick Lefevre ventilates: "After ten years of waiting we finally get rewarded. It was the first time my team choose to ride for just one man. Apperently the best tactics."
Many thanks to Anita Van Crey for additional infos.