|Team Milram Preview|
Team Milram is mainly about one man: Alessandro "Rocketpants" Petacchi, the fastest Italian sprinter in the world and the official heir of Mario "SuperFabio" Cipollini. Petacchi has owned the Giro (and a lot of other races) over the past few years. However, the outlook is not rosy for the Dairy Dudes as they dust off their light blue lycra in preparation for tomorrow's opening prologue. It all started when Giro organizers announced this year's course. As scores of commentators have noted, it was like the Giro organizers went mountain crazy, as they built a course so hard and hilly that, at one point, Petacchi considered just skipping the race this year. Really, there are only a few days where the flat-masters like Petacchi will be able to shine. There is no way in hell that Petacchi will be able to repeat his 2004 performance, where he took home no less than nine Giro stage victories.
This means that Team Milram will have to make the most of every opportunity for a stage victory, and that the Petacchi leadout train will have to start firing early on if Petacchi is going to keep up his legacy and satisfy his new cow-squeezing sponsors. Last year, Petacchi and his Fassa Bortolo leadout train struggled early—in part due to some tough, hilly stage finishes—and he "only" took home four stage victories (alas!). If they get going early, Petacchi and his new team should match last year's performance and make another serious run at the points jersey.
Petacchi got some more bad news in the middle of an excellent string of wins at the Oddset Rundfahrt in mid-April. While Petacchi won all five stages and the overall title, he lost his leadout man Marco Velo to a crash at the end of the third stage. Velo, a hard veteran with the perfect Italian cycling name, broke his collarbone and thus left a gaping hole in Petacchi's squad. However, Petacchi and his teammates were still able to step up and win the next two stages of the race without Velo, so all is not lost. Not only is Rocketpants on form and winning races—13 so far this season—but he has a solid supporting cast of youngsters and veterans who should keep him at the front when it counts.
Team Milram absorbed much of the old Domina Vacanze team, and that genesis is reflected in their Giro squad. Five of the men who will line up with Petacchi hit the roads with Domina Vacanze last year: Alessandro Cortinovis, Sergio Ghisalberti, Mirco Lorenzetto, Elia Rigotto, and Alessandro Vanotti (that makes three Alessandros on this team, if you're counting). Cortinovis is a seven-year veteran of the peloton, a reliable domestique with no professional wins who will likely eat up of a lot of miles at the front of the bunch chasing breaks on the flat stages. Lorenzetto is in the same mold, as the third-year pro has no wins but carries a lot of gas in the tank. Rigotto is a sprinter who was an important part of the leadout train in the recent Oddset Rundfahrt: when Velo went down, Rigotto was the rider who stepped up to the position of final leadout man as he guided Petacchi to his final two stage victories. In fact, the second-year pro took 2nd himself in the final stage and earned a start in the Giro with his quality performance. Perhaps the most interesting holdover from Domina Vacanze is Ghisalberti, a second-year pro with no wins yet to his name. The young climber is on excellent form, having taken 9th in the recent Tour de Romandie and 5th on the critical 3rd stage. In fact, Ghisalberti was able to hang with the group of Valverde and eventual winner Evans up the brutal finishing climb on stage 3, showing that he may have the legs for a stage win or even a top-ten performance in this climbing-crazy Giro. Vanotti is also a decent climber who rode a good Tour of Romandie, so he should be able to keep Ghisalberti out of the wind for a while on the mountains stages while doing work chasing breaks on the flats.
Team Milram will also bring three key veterans to race in Christian Knees, Alberto Ongarato, and Fabio Sacchi. Knees is a sixth-year pro and the sole German on the team; he is on great form, as he just won the Rund um Köln in April. Ongarato is a rock, an eight year veteran who rode with Petacchi for the past three years on Fassa Bortolo. Ongarato can put the hurt on the whole peloton with his leadout hammer in the final few kilometers. Sacchi, another veteran of Fassa Bortolo, is in his eleventh year as a pro. He has won a lot of races, but for the past couple of years he has also been a key component of Petacchi's train.
The loss of Velo is big, but the men that Petacchi brings with him to the start tomorrow have already proven that they are up to the challenge. Despite the annoyingly bumpy altimetry of the race, you can expect to see a lot of these men on the front of the pack asserting their authority in the days and weeks to come. The real question is this: how many of the Milram riders can make it through that brutal last week? Petacchi himself might not be able to make it through to that last flat stage in Milano. If he does, and if he can keep his mates about him, don't be surprised to see him in the Points Jersey crossing the line first on the final day.
Team Milram Roster
- Alessandro Petacchi (Italy)
- Alessandro Cortinovis (Italy)
- Sergio Ghisalberti (Italy)
- Christian Knees (Germany)
- Alberto Ongarato (Italy)
- Fabio Sacchi (Italy)
- Alessandro Vanotti (Italy)
- Mirco Lorenzetto (Italy)
- Elia Rigotto (Italy)
Find out more about these riders at http://www.team-milram.com/en/team_riders.asp.