Right after crossing the line, Oscar Freire was still unsure and a bit skeptical about his Milan-Sanremo victory (and one can’t blame him, after he lost twice -at Tour of Andalusia and Tirreno-Adriatico- in similar sprint finishes), but when RAI Journalist Alessandra De Stefano made him sure of his success, the Spaniard raised his right fist in triumph at last, adding that “this win means a lot to me. I was aware of my excellent condition, but didn’t know if it was better for me to go on the attack or not. But as I realized how strong the Fassas were today, I opted for waiting (for the sprint)”. And it looks like he made the right decision, doesn’t it ?
The man from Cantabria was in front in the RAI microphones -this time interviewed by Di Stefano’s colleague Alessandro Fabbretti- also after the award ceremony, with more time at disposal, and added more of his point of view on this victory and his extremely successful season to date “I left the past (knee and shoulder) probs behind, this year. I did well since the season start, I did well at Tirreno (Adriatico) too, and came here in a good condition. And I think I made the most out of it”. A few tidbits on the sprint “I was on Petacchi’s wheels first, then Zabel came and tried to take that position. I could either start a fight over that, or let him take the place. I opted for letting him take the place, then both Zabel and I started our sprints and, well, I won”. And it looks like he made the right decision, doesn’t it ?
Sure one has to believe Freire when he says that this victory means a lot to him, particularly after his previously failed attempts to capture a prestigious World Cup Classic. “I was really hungry for victory in a Classic like this. Last year I had a good race here, but no luck, as I was up against a very strong Bettini”. The Rabo-boy didn’t waste the opportunity to thank his teammates, one of them in particular “Erik Dekker did a great job in the last km., as he took me right behind Petacchi’s wheels”.
From today’s winner to a man that could be regarded as one of the biggest losers, in spite of his fourth place: Alessandro Petacchi, who did sound very disappointed after the race finish, and said that “I rode a great race, and so did my team, but in the end I simply didn’t have the legs (to win). And unfortunately disappointed my teammates. I thought I could win, and they did a great lead-out work for me. According to the team plans, had I been able to stay with the front group on the climbs, they all would have worked for me. And so they did: from Pozzato to VDB to Trenti, to the others, they set up a magnificent lead-out train. But unfortunately we lost because I didn’t sprint the way I’m used to, my legs weren’t ok. Maybe I paid for the efforts on the ascents, where the pace was kept high. I am very sorry, but that’s the way things have gone”. Despite the huge disappointment the “Sprinter Gentleman” couldn’t hide, there was room for optimism in such a day: “I know that, sooner or later, I’ll win this race” were Petacchi’s last words in front of the RAI TV microphones after he crossed the line.
But if Petacchi found himself guilty of not paying his team-mates back for their efforts, it was one of the Fassa domestiques, Roberto Petito, that “acquitted” him “ You all know the kind of guy he is, you know that always gives everything he can. And also today Alessandro did all he could”.
On to Petacchi’s main rival, Mario Cipollini, who shared Petacchi’s defeat today. In fact the “Lion King” did even worse than the man who stole him the status of best sprinter in the business, as he finished minutes behind the first bunch. But quite paradoxically he sounded much less disappointed than Petacchi, and much less upset than in other similar (or even not so bad) circumstances in the past years of his career. Instead than about his race, he was first asked (by RAI’S Alessandra Di Stefano) to comment upon Freire’s win, and immediately praised the winner “Freire is a great rider, and this is no news: he has two World Titles n his palmares, so he knows how to win big races”. As for himself, Cipo admitted that his condition was not good enough for him to do well. “I wanted to try anyway, and I tried, but on the Cipressa I realized that my legs were not good enough, so I gave up”. Super Mario added that getting back to the roads that saw him take one of the biggest wins of his career, after more than one failed attempt, was a pleasant experience to him anyway.
Italy’s National Team coach Franco Ballerini spent a few words on Petacchi’s performance and result “I’m extremely sorry for him, he raced in the best possible way, but when you are up against such skilled riders (as Freire) you run the risk to pay dearly for every little mistake you make”.
On to another red hot favourite that didn’t live up to expectations, Paolo Bettini, who praised Freire for his accomplishment and the “well-earned victory” the man earned, but also said that his win, and the way the Spaniard got it, was no surprise at all to “the Cricket”, who is well aware of Freire’s sprinting skills in the last 30 meters of a race. Bettini himself experienced them in a recent Tirreno-Adriatico stage, where today’s winner almost pipped him on the line the way he did to Zabel today, benefiting from his rival’s overconfidence. Bettini saved a very narrow lead on that occasion, whereas Zabel didn’t at Via Roma.
This time the “Californian” (from La California hamlet in Tuscany) wasn’t a serious contender in the end, but the outcome might have been different had more riders attacked on the climbs and made things difficult for the sprinters. And even if he didn’t stop smiling and didn’t sound too upset (maybe the fact he won here one year ago anyway, and also the number of wins he already scored in this early season events, including a success in a race like Tirreno-Adriatico may explain why) he was deeply critical of the attitude of riders that “often talk of the need to be daring and go on the attack in order to avoid a bunch sprint finish, but when the time to attack comes, simply stay on other riders’ wheels. I know that in a sprint with the likes of Freire, Zabel, Petacchi and Cipo I can hardly win, that’s why I go on the attack every year. But others don’t”.
His remarks were addressed at many in the peloton, but notably at some friends of his (like Di Luca, Figueras, Astarloa), that took quite a passive attitude in today’s race. On the contrary, he spent good words for Michele Bartoli who, in Bettini’s opinion, would have attacked for sure if a crash hadn’t taken him out of contention, and for Yaroslav Popovych, the only one who followed Bettini’s move on the Cipressa, and tried to help him “(Popovych) is always on the attack, and I hope he may get some wins, ‘cause he deserves them”.
As for Petacchi’s disappointing result, “Il Grillo” said that “I don’t know what happened to him. I saw him ride very well on ascents like Turchino and Cipressa, where he was also in the top 15 places, and with plenty of team-mates around to help him. But that’s the way MSR is. It’s a 300-km. race, a demanding race, that may take its toll on every rider, notably as the final straight in Via Roma is slightly uphill. And today Petacchi found a great Freire that was able to edge him out”.
95th Milan-Sanremo on the Daily Peloton - Links
* 95th Milan-Sanremo LIVE COVERAGE!
* Cipollini and Petacchi: A Curious Comparison
* The Poggio: Springboard to Victory
* 95th Milan-Sanremo Preview - The Parcours
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(Hincapie interviewed in Milan)