Well, perhaps it is today. As the Fassa sprinter who notched up another win (the twelfth in just a month) for the mighty Italian team wasn't the usual Alessandro Petacchi, currently training for his next challenges Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-Sanremo, but Fabio Sacchi
, first across the line at Turin's Corso Casale street at the end of the 90th edition of the Milano-Torino one-day classic.
The oldest classic of Italian cycling, held for the first time back in the days of 1876 (when the winner covered the route in about ten hours ... one less than the runner-up) got back to its old habits. An early season event until 1986, then moved to the October calendar, the one-day Milan-Turin recovered its status as Milan-Sanremo tune-up race as it opened the northern Italian calendar this Saturday, exactly two weeks away from the "Classica di Primavera".
The 90th edition of the race, starting not in downtown Milan but at the nearby town of Novate Milanese and taking the peloton to the line situated in the Corso Casale street of Piedmont's main city, right in front of the Fausto Coppi velodrome after a journey of 199 km., contained the Vignale Monferrato ascent (mt.293), coming after the first, predominantly flat 95 km., but especially the Colle di Superga hill, taking the bunch up to an altitude of 620m ASL, which will be part of a stage (the Cheri-Turin ITT) in the Giro d'Italia last week in late May. Then riders tackle the long and fast final downhill into the line in Turin. Snow fell over the climb until two days ago, but the road was salted so that riders could eventually climb this ascent today.
The race is featured by Ivan Basso's comeback to the races, as the Varesino chose Milan-Turin as the right place for making his debut in a season that could see him as absolute protagonist at the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and/or other events. But the 1.1-rated contest drew many more star riders to the line, both Italians (Danilo Di Luca, dual winner Mirko Celestino, GP Lugano podium finisher Emanuele Sella, his Panaria teammate Paride Grillo, one of the most interesting youngsters on the sprinting scene, et al.) and foreigners (the Aussie sprinting duo of Stuart O'Grady and Graeme Brown plus Pavel Tonkov and Nicki Aebersold, just to name a few).
90th Milano-Torino: Partcipating teams (and main riders)
1. Acqua & Sapone-Adria Mobil (Ita) (Gabriele Balducci, Leonardo Moser)
2. Androni Giocattoli (Ita) (Paolo Bailetti, Raffaele Ferrara)
3. Team Barloworld-Valsir (GBR) (Enrico Degano, Eddy Serri)
4. Ceramica Flaminia (Ita) (Stefano Boggia, Francesco Cipolletta)
5. Ceramica Panaria-Navigare (Ita) (Emanuele Sella, Paolo Tiralongo, Paride Grillo)
6. Cofidis (Fra) (Stuart O'Grady, Leonardo Bertagnolli)
7. Colombia-Selle Italia (Col) (Raffaele Illiano, Marlón Perez Arango)
8. CSC (Dan) (Ivan Basso, Andrea Peron)
9. Domina Vacanze (Ita) (Mirko Celestino, Serhyi Honchar)
10. Fassa Bortolo (Ita) (Roberto Petito, Fabio Sacchi)
11. Lampre-Caffita (Ita) (Gianluca Bortolami, Dario Pieri)
12. Liquigas-Bianchi (Ita) (Danilo Di Luca, Andrea Noč)
13. L.P.R. (Swi) (Pavel Tonkov, Dimitri Konyshev)
14. Miche (Bul) (Przemyslaw Niemec, Fabio Borghesi)
15. Naturino-Sapore di Mare (Swi) (Filippo Simeoni, Valerio Agnoli)
16. Phonak Hearing Systems(Swi) (Nicki Aebersold, Fabrizio Guidi)
17. Tenax (Ire) (David McPartland, Zoran Klemencic)
The Milanese sprinter recorded the 11th success in his career in the pro ranks as he edged out his former teammate (at Saeco) Mirko Celestino, now riding for Domina Vacanze, whose hopes to repeat his 2001 and 2003 winning performances here got dashed, and "orange warrior" (of Panaria, not Euskaltel) Paolo Tiralongo, who rode to his second top three finish in this early season, after placing third also in a mid-February contest. His young teammate Emanuele Sella, podium place getter at GP Lugano six days ago, snatched fourth, while Danilo Di Luca completed the race top 5.
After some failed breakaway attempts in the first, flat part of the route, Cofidis' Aussie Matthew White and Colombian Luis Felipe Laverde Jiménez of Panaria opened up the gap around km. 150, but they were caught at the foot of the Superga hill, which is where the race broke open, with riders like Di Luca and Sella forcing the pace and breaking the field into pieces; a first bunch of nine-ten riders distanced from the others, and contained the aforementioned Italians as well as Sella's teammates Tiralongo and Luca Mazzanti plus Mirko Celestino, Liquigas-Bianchi's veteran Andrea Noé, Poland's Przemyslaw Niemec of the Miche team - one of the most pleasant surprises in this race - and the Fassa Bortolo trio of Fabio Sacchi, Roberto Petito, and Vincenzo Nibali.
The Sicilian is particularly worthy of mention: riding in the Junior ranks until a couple seasons ago Nibali, nicknamed "Lo Squalo dello Stretto" (the Shark of the Messina Strait), made a quick and a successful appearance in the U23 ranks, also climbing the ITT podium at the Verona Worlds this past October. And after turning a professional rider at the age of 20 (Nibali will be 21 in Mid-November only), the young gun from Messina is showing a more than excellent condition, such that rumors even say the Fassa Bortolo managers are having a hard time telling him to slow down and take it easy during their training sessions, when the boys apparently took a liking at dropping all his more accomplished and better-known teammates.
Nibali was one of the most active riders today, but so was fellow Sicilian Tiralongo, finally back to a top performance after the terrible accident he was victim of in a 2003 Giro stage, and the relative probs he had throughout the past season, made him think of pulling out of cycling. The nine escapees crested the climb with a lead of 20" over a first chase group containing, among others, Serhyi Honchar, Stuart O'Grady and Ivan Basso, who showed a more than decent condition at his official season debut and was often seen at the front of this bunch driving the chase at Colle di Superga. The following descent into Turin, that saw Marco Pantani hit the tarmac with devastating consequences in October 1995, claimed a victim a decade later, as Honchar fell - albeit without suffering major consequences - apart from having all hopes to join the front group destroyed.
Speaking of the front group, both Nibali and Celestino attacked on the downhill section, but were caught at the end of the descent, and despite a very late move by the Liquigas rider, it all came down to a bunch sprint, started by a Panariaman, but with Sacchi and the same Celestino coming around him, both crossing the line doing the victory saluite. Uncertainty about the winner's name reigned, until the photofinish spoke in favor of Sacchi, winner by a mere 10 cm. or so, and back to the top of the podium in a one-day race for the first time since his Giro di Romagna victory in the days of September 2003 (his 2004 tally consisted of just a stage win at Tour of Portugal). Basso finished 19th at 46".
"It was a much-needed moral boost" the winner said in post-race interviews; I knew that I'm going fast in this period, but to win a race is always a pleasure. Fassa Bortolo's all-rounders are often tasked with working for our sprinter Petacchi. It's a pleasure for us to do so, because of the results he get and the way he's very kind to us. But it's always a pleasure to put your bike ahead all others", and again, "for one it's me having to thank my teammates for the job they did. Early this morning our DS Gianelli decided that myself, Nibali and Petito had to play our cards in the race, and in case we were all together in the final sprint, they would work for me. Things went according to plans, with just nine riders remaining up front, and myself, Nibali and Petito were there. My teammates were of help in the closing kilometres, and in the end I managed to bring this victory home.
90th Milan-Turin (199 km.): Top 10 Places
1. Fabio Sacchi (Ita - Fassa Bortolo) - 04h47'41"
2. Mirko Celestino (Ita - Domina Vacanze) - s.t.
3. Paolo Tiralongo (Ita - Panaria) - s.t.
4. Emanuele Sella (Ita - Panaria) - s.t.
5. Danilo Di Luca (Ita - Liquigas-Bianchi) - at 01"
6. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita - Fassa Bortolo) - at 03"
7. Andrea Noé (Ita - Liquigas-Bianchi) - at 04"
8. Roberto Petito (Ita - Fassa Bortolo) - at 07"
9. Luca Mazzanti (Ita - Panaria) - s.t.
10. Przemyslaw Niemec (Pol - Miche) - s.t.
Milano-Torino: Winners List
1876: Paolo Magretti (Ita)
1894: Luigi Airaldi (Ita)
1896: Giovanni Moro (Ita)
1903: Giovanni Gerbi (Ita)
1905: Giovanni Rossignoli (Ita)
1911: Henri Pélissier (Fra)
1913: Giuseppe Azzini (Ita)
1914: Costante Girardengo (Ita)
1915: Costante Girardengo (Ita)
1917: Oscar Egg (Swi)
1918: Gaetano Belloni (Ita)
1919: Costante Girardengo (Ita)
1920: Costante Girardengo (Ita)
1921: Federico Gay (Ita)
1922: Adriano Zanaga (Ita)
1923: Costante Girardengo (Ita)
1924: Federico Gay (Ita)
1925: Adriano Zanaga (Ita)
1931: Giuseppe Graglia (Ita)
1932: Giuseppe Olmo (Ita)
1933: Giuseppe Graglia (Ita)
1934: Mario Cipriani (Ita)
1935: Giovanni Gotti (Ita)
1936: Cesare Del Cancia (Ita)
1937: Giuseppe Martano (Ita)
1938: Pierino Favalli (Ita)
1939: Pierino Favalli (Ita)
1940: Pierino Favalli (Ita)
1941: Piero Chiappini (Ita)
1942: Piero Chiappini (Ita)
1945: Vito Ortelli (Ita)
1946: Vito Ortelli (Ita)
1947: Italo De Zan (Ita)
1948: Sergio Maggini (Ita)
1949: Luigi Casola (Ita)
1950: Adolfo Grosso (Ita)
1951: Fiorenzo Magni (Ita)
1952: Aldo Bini (Ita)
1953: Luciano Maggini (Ita)
1954: Agostino Coletto (Ita)
1955: Cleto Maule (Ita)
1956: Ferdi Kübler (Swi)
1957: Miquel Poblet (Spa)
1958: Agostino Coletto (Ita)
1959: Nello Fabbri (Ita)
1960: Arnaldo Pambianco (Ita)
1961: Walter Martin (Ita)
1962: Franco Balmamion (Ita)
1963: Franco Cribiori (Ita)
1964: Valentin Uriona (Ita)
1965: Vito Taccone (Ita)
1966: Marino Vigna (Ita)
1967: Gianni Motta (Ita)
1968 Franco Bitossi (Ita)
1969: Claudio Michelotto (Ita)
1970: Luciano Armani (Ita)
1971: Georges Pintens (Bel)
1972: Roger De Vlaeminck (Bel)
1973: Marcello Bergamo (Ita)
1974: Roger De Vlaeminck (Bel)
1975: Wladimiro Panizza (Ita)
1976: Enrico Paolini (Ita)
1977: Rik Van Linden (Bel)
1978: Pierino Gavazzi (Ita)
1979: Alfio Vandi (Ita)
1980: Giovanni Battaglin (Ita)
1981: Giuseppe Martinelli (Ita)
1982: Giuseppe Saronni (Ita)
1983: Francesco Moser (Ita)
1984: Paolo Rosola (Ita)
1985: Daniele Caroli (Ita)
1987: Phil Anderson (Aus)
1988: Rolf Gölz (Ger)
1989: Rolf Gölz (Ger)
1990: Mauro Gianetti (Swi)
1991: Davide Cassani (Ita)
1992: Gianni Bugno (Ita)
1993: Rolf Sřrensen (Den)
1994: Francesco Casagrande (Ita)
1995: Stefano Zanini (Ita)
1996: Daniele Nardello (Ita)
1997: Laurent Jalabert (Fra)
1998: Niki Aebersold (Swi)
1999: Markus Zberg (Swi)
2001: Mirko Celestino (Ita)
2002: Michele Bartoli (Ita)
2003: Mirko Celestino (Ita)
2004: Marcos Serrano (Spa)
2005: Fabio Sacchi (Ita)