Cancellara wins the spring classic

It wasn’t a sprint or an attack over the Poggio that won the 99th Milan-San Remo. It was Fabian Cancellara's instinct for big drama in cycling’s biggest days.

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By Andrew Hood

Cancellara arrives in San Remo — with time to celebrate

Photo: Graham Watson

It wasn’t a sprint or an attack over the Poggio that won the 99th Milan-San Remo. It was Fabian Cancellara‘s instinct for big drama in cycling’s biggest days.

Just like he did into Compiegne in last year’s Tour de France, the 2006 Paris-Roubaix champ used the power that’s won him back-to-back world time trial titles to solo home for an emotional victory, this time ahead of Liquigas’s Filippo Pozzato, with Philippe Gilbert third.

“This is something that you can script inside the team bus. Just like last year at Compiegne, the attack came just at the right instant in a moment of instinct,” Cancellara said. “I told my teammates on the Cipressa I felt like I had winning legs. We wanted to set a fast pace to eliminate the sprinters. Everything unfolded like a movie.”

In a nail-biting, attack-riddled 298km race that saw American Will Frischkorn (Slipstream-Chipotle) feature in the day’s main breakaway, Cancellara was where he needed to be in all the right moments in more than seven hours on the bike.

The big Swiss time machine used his winning form from Tirreno-Adriatico to stay with attacks up the Poggio before following the race-breaking punch by Gilbert on the snaking Poggio descent.

With less than 3km to go, just as an elite group of 12 riders that also included two-time winner Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) prepared for what looked like a bunch sprint, Cancellara surprised everyone by counter-attacking a move by Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi) with a blistering acceleration that didn’t draw out an immediate challenge.

By the time Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) ramped up the chase, a new finishing straight that was nearly 700 yards longer than usual gave Cancellara plenty of time to savor another dramatic victory in a career that’s full of impressive achievements.

“We knew we shouldn’t have let get that gap,” said Pozzato, who braided his hair before the start. “I think we could have caught him if we had all pulled together, but everyone was thinking about their own race. I think I had to the legs to win today. It was a missed opportunity.”

It was a banner day for Cancellara in a wide-open, blistering race in crisp spring weather that saw the sprinters struggle over the Cipressa and Poggio (as well as the new climb at La Mànie) and attackers throw down punches with relish.

“I had good legs, but not good enough to stay with the front guys on the Poggio,” said Italy’s star sprinter Alessandro Petacchi, winner in 2005. “I had some teammates to help me, Sabatini and Zabel, but it was too late to chase back.”

Cancellara’s CSC teammates helped neutralize a dangerous five-man breakaway over the Cipressa that included two-time world champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step).

Bettini attacked on the Cipressa and briefly had a gap of about 30 seconds with four others ...

Bettini attacked on the Cipressa and briefly had a gap of about 30 seconds with four others …

Photo: Graham Watson

Bettini’s group, which also featured Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Paolo Savoldelli (LPR Brakes), Niklas Axelsson (Diquigiovanni-Androni) and Tomas Lovkvist (High Road), opened up a 33-second gap, but CSC and Liquigas helped squelch the move before the decisive Poggio climb.

Alessandro Bertolini (Diquigiovanni-Androni) led the way up the Poggio as the peloton splintered in his wake. Cancellara followed the moves that included the likes of Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r-La Mondial), Pozzato, Freire, Ballan, Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld), Gilbert and Rebellin.

The dirty dozen traced down the Poggio with just enough rope on the main pack to think about a looming sprint. That’s when Cancellara took matters into his own hands and stole away with one of cycling’s “monuments” in a monumental attack.

Borrowing a page from Andrei Tchmil, who attacked with 800m to go to hold off the sprinters in 1999, Cancellara churned his pedals to become the first Swiss rider to win since Erich Maechler won 21 years ago.

The 27-year-old had enough time to lift his arms in celebration as Pozzato, a winner in 2006, sprinted ahead of Gilbert for second place at four seconds in arrears. Rebellin was fourth and Mirko Lorenzetto (Lampre) slotted in for fifth.

“I looked around to see if I had won. It will take some time for me to realize that I’ve actually done it,” Cancellara said. “The last one to do it like this was Tchmil, but he did it with 800 meters. I did it with two kilometers. I was dreaming of winning. I just can’t believe it came true.”

And they’re off

The 99th Milan-San Remo started under a crisp spring morning in Milan, with 199 riders from 25 teams taking the early start at just before 10 a.m. Alberto Loddo (Tinkoff) was the lone non-starter.

The peloton roared through the first hour with an average speed of just under 50kph. Breakaways typically pull clear as the peloton roars south out of Milan across the flats in the Po Valley.

Just into the second hour of racing, riders began attacking to try to make a move stick. Four riders pulled clear, with Frischkorn joining Raivis Belohvosciks (Saunier Duval-Scott) , Filippo Savini (CSF Group Navigare) and Nicola d’Andrea (Miche-Silver Cross).

Three of the riders were from non-ProTour teams and bolstered the decision by race organizers, RCS Sport, to widen the net and include smaller teams that promise to liven up the race.

Frischkorn, who’s enjoyed a fine season so far, was living up to his end of the bargain.

“For my first Milan-San Remo, I couldn’t have imagined a cooler day. Riding out front through the never-ending crowds and unreal scenery along the coast was an experience I won’t forget,” Frischkorn said. “And for the PowerTap geeks out there, how does 6,600kjs sound? Ouch! Now for a quick trip home and a few days of serious recovery.”

Slipstream-Chipotle was flying high after receiving news Thursday that it earned a spot among the 20-team roster to start the 2008 Tour de France, in what’s a huge boon for the American team.

The quartet worked well together and widened their lead to north of 10 minutes at 130km. The leaders held an 11-minute lead over the Passo del Turchino but saw its gap trimmed to under nine minutes as Lampre upped the pace over the new climb at Le Mànie with just under 100km to go.

The new climb proved difficult for the pure sprinters, with Petacchi and Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto) losing the wheel in the main pack, but there was plenty of road for them to catch back on.

Lampre, Quick Step and Liquigas moved to the front to trim the lead to under five minutes as the peloton roared off the Mànie and toward the string of headlands jutting into the Mediterranean.

At Capo Cervo, the gap was still hovering around three minutes, but these early moves are almost always doomed. By 40km to go, the gap was down to 1:30 and the Fat Lady was getting ready to sing as the bunch neared the Cipressa.

Thick and fast on Cipressa

Milram, Gerolsteiner and Lampre put fresh legs on the front coming through Imperia to put the finishing touches on the breakaway and transition into the final, decisive part of the race.

It was a great day for Frischkorn, who was away 233km in the breakaway.

High Road’s Thomas Lövkvis and Bettini (Quick Step) were the first to make a move on the Cipressa, followed by José Iván Gutiérrez (Caisse d’Epargne) who chased out of the group. Patxi Vila (Lampre) and Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d’Epargne) each had short-lived surges as the main pack powered up the middle flanks of the Cipressa.

David Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) roared out of the pack to draw a half dozen riders when Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) got his handlebars tangled up in the seat post of Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) and the pair rattled to the ground.

Rebellin and Axelsson bridged out to Lövkvis and Bettini as the peloton was fracturing under the pace as riders spring away one after another off the front. Paolo Savoldelli (LPR Brakes) soloed over the Cipressa summit to chase as the leaders were patiently waiting with the likes of Freire, Cancellara and Pozzato all well-positioned.

“I tried everything to win today,” said Rebellin, who won Paris-Nice last week. “I was strong enough to be in each breakaway. I thought the Bettini move might stay away. I had the legs to follow again on the Poggio. I gave all, but didn’t have the luck.”

New pavement made it even easier for the expert descender Savoldelli to latch onto the leading quartet with 20km to go as the peloton single-filed down the sinuous Cipressa descent towering above the glittering Italian Riviera. A Cofidis rider slammed into a guardrail.

The peloton was all busted up, with small groups trailing behind the leading quintet as it hit a flat 10km section heading toward the Poggio climb. A trailing group of about 20 riders included pre-race favorites Freire, Zabel, Petacchi, Hunter, Hushovd and Hincapie quickly followed by a Liquigas-led group to rejoin the main peloton.

The big teams still had strong representation, with five from CSC, Milram and Liquigas as the Bettini-Savoldelli-Rebellin group held a 33-second lead.

The combined effort snuffed the potentially dangerous move coming to the base of the Poggio.

Up the Poggio

FDJeux led the way up the lower flanks of the Poggio to try to spring Gilbert.

Bertolini on the attack on the Poggio

Bertolini on the attack on the Poggio

Photo: Graham Watson

Alessandro Bertolini (Diquigiovanni-Androni) was the first to accelerate on the Poggio, drawing out Kurt-Asle Arvesen (CSC), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) and one other to mark the move, but the peloton was hovering close with Cancellara in good position on the fourth wheel.

More riders spliced off the front with Rebellin having another dig, followed by Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld) and Alessandro Ballan (Lampre). Freire was following the accelerations on the sixth wheel, but Cancellara was right on his wheel.

The Gilbert move finally came on the top end of the descent, with Cancellara, Freire, Ballan, Rebellin and another half dozen in good position. Some of the bigger names such as Petacchi were off the back.

Gilbert sliced down the descent, but Cancellara was right on the move with a baker’s dozen with 5km to go that included Pozzato and Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi).

Cancellara led the way down the final switchbacks off the Poggio with a good-sized gap to the desperately chasing sprinters. Rebellin gave it another dig with 4km to go marked by Pelizotti and Gasparotto while Cancellara led the chase followed by the remnants of the peloton.

Cancellara put the hammer down with under 3km to go. The others looked around to each other to see who would lead the chase and by then it was too late. No one wanted to take the responsibility and Cancellara just powered it home, using his world time trial championship legs to bury the pedals.

Photo Gallery


1. Fabian Cancellara (CSC) 298 km in 7h14:35

2. Filippo Pozzato (I), Liquigas, 7:14:39

3. Philippe Gilbert (B), Francaise des Jeux, 7:14:39

4. Davide Rebellin (I), Gerolsteiner, 7:14:39

5. Mirco Lorenzetto (I), Lampre, 7:14:39

6. Anthony Geslin (F), Bouygues Telecom, 7:14:39

7. Rinaldo Nocentini (I), Paternina – Costa De Almeria, 7:14:39

8. Oscar Freire Gomez (Sp), Rabobank, 7:14:40

9. Thor Hushovd (Nor), Credit Agricole, 7:14:40

10. Arvesen Kurt-Asle (Nor), CSC, 7:14:40

11. Alessandro Bertolini (I), SDA, 7:14:40

12. Enrico Gasparotto (I), Barloworld, 7:14:40

13. Raffaele Illiano (I), SDA, 7:14:43

14. Inigo Landaluze Intxaurraga (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 7:14:46

15. Franco Pellizotti (I), Liquigas, 7:14:47

16. Alessandro Ballan (I), Lampre, 7:14:48

17. Erik Zabel (G), Milram, 7:14:49

18. Alessandro Petacchi (I), Milram, 7:14:49

19. Baden Cooke (Aus), Barloworld, 7:14:49

20. Nick Nuyens (B), Cofidis, 7:14:49

21. Martin Elmiger (Swi), Paternina – Costa De Almeria, 7:14:50

22. Enrico Rossi (I), NGC, 7:14:50

23. Maximilia Ariel Maximilia (ARG), CSF, 7:14:50

24. Xavier Florencio Cabre (Sp), Bouygues Telecom, 7:14:50

25. Julian Dean (NZl), Slipstream-Chipotle, 7:14:50

26. Aitor Galdos Alonso (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 7:14:50

27. Lloyd Mondory (F), Paternina – Costa De Almeria, 7:14:50

28. Manuele Mori (I), Saunier Duval, 7:14:50

29. Tom Boonen (B), Quickstep, 7:14:51

30. Arnaud Labbe (F), Bouygues Telecom, 7:14:51

31. Luca Mazzanti (I), TCS, 7:14:51

32. Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz), Credit Agricole, 7:14:51

33. Daniele Pietropolli (I), Team L.P.R., 7:14:51

34. Rojas Gil Jose Joaquin (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, 7:14:51

35. Angel Gomez Gomez (Sp), Saunier Duval, 7:14:52

36. Roger Hammond (GB), Team High Road, 7:14:52

37. Ruben Perez Moreno (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 7:14:52

38. Luis Pasamontes Rodriguez (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, 7:14:53

39. Karsten Kroon (Nl), CSC, 7:14:53

40. Matti Breschel (Dk), CSC, 7:14:53

41. Flecha Giannoni Juan Antonio (Sp), Rabobank, 7:14:53

42. George Hincapie (USA), Team High Road, 7:14:53

43. Pavel Brutt (Rus), TCS, 7:14:53

44. Sebastian Langeveld (Nl), Rabobank, 7:14:54

45. Gabriele Missaglia (I), SDA, 7:14:54

46. Paolo Longo Borghini (I), Barloworld, 7:14:54

47. Fabian Wegmann (G), Gerolsteiner, 7:14:54

48. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr), Silence-Lotto, 7:14:55

49. Serpa Perez Jose Rodolfo (Col), SDA, 7:14:55

50. Tiziano Dall’Antonia (I), CSF, 7:14:56

51. Patrick Calcagni (Swi), Barloworld, 7:14:56

52. Frank Schleck (Lux), CSC, 7:14:56

53. Greg Van Avermaet (B), Silence-Lotto, 7:14:56

54. Stefan Schumacher (G), Gerolsteiner, 7:14:56

55. Vladimir Karpets (Rus), Caisse d’Epargne, 7:14:56

56. Giovanni Visconti (I), Quickstep, 7:14:57

57. Emanuele Sella (I), CSF, 7:14:58

58. Danilo Di Luca (I), Team L.P.R., 7:14:58

59. Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, 7:14:58

60. Sylvain Chavanel (F), Cofidis, 7:14:59

61. Matteo Tosatto (I), Quickstep, 7:14:59

62. Andrea Moletta (I), Gerolsteiner, 7:15:00

63. Vila Errandonea Francisco J. (Sp), Lampre, 7:15:00

64. Daniele Nardello (I), SDA, 7:15:00

65. Fabio Sabatini (I), Milram, 7:15:03

66. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol), Miche, 7:15:22

67. Paolo Bailetti (I), Team L.P.R., 7:15:23

68. Danilo Hondo (G), SDA, 7:15:56

69. Matteo Priamo (I), CSF, 7:15:56

70. Carlo Scognamiglio (I), Barloworld, 7:15:56

71. Alexandre Botcharov (Rus), Credit Agricole, 7:15:56

72. Pablo Lastras Garcia (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, 7:15:56

73. Marcus Ljungqvist (Swe), CSC, 7:16:03

74. Benoit Vaugrenard (F), Francaise des Jeux, 7:16:04

75. Yuriy Krivtsov (Ukr), Paternina – Costa De Almeria, 7:16:13

76. Passeron Aur‚lien (F), Saunier Duval, 7:16:21

77. Staf Scheirlinckx (B), Cofidis, 7:16:39

78. Marco Velo (I), Milram, 7:16:40

79. Alberto Ongarato (I), Milram, 7:16:40

80. Robbie Mcewen (Aus), Silence-Lotto, 7:16:40

81. Pedro Horrillo Munoz (Sp), Rabobank, 7:16:40

82. Andrea Tonti (I), Quickstep, 7:16:40

83. Benitez Roman Jose Alberto (Sp), Saunier Duval, 7:16:41

84. Gutierrez Palacios Jos‚ Ivan (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, 7:16:41

85. Imanol Erviti (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, 7:16:41

86. L™vkvist Thomas (Swe), Team High Road, 7:16:41

87. Paolo Savoldelli (I), Team L.P.R., 7:16:41

88. Minard S‚bastien (F), Cofidis, 7:16:42

89. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), CSC, 7:16:43

90. Rene Mandri (Est), Paternina – Costa De Almeria, 7:16:58

91. Guesdon Fr‚d‚ric (F), Francaise des Jeux, 7:18:06

92. Koos Moerenhout (Nl), Rabobank, 7:20:17

93. Marc De Maar (Nl), Rabobank, 7:20:17

94. Christian Knees (G), Milram, 7:20:17

95. Carlstr™m Kjell (FIN), Liquigas, 7:20:17

96. Antonio Murilo Antonio (BRA), Liquigas, 7:20:18

97. Manuel Quinziato (I), Liquigas, 7:20:18

98. Massimo Giunti (I), Miche, 7:20:18

99. David Millar (GB), Slipstream-Chipotle, 7:20:18

100. Vincent Jerome (F), Bouygues Telecom, 7:20:19

101. Niklas Axelsson (Swe), SDA, 7:20:19

102. Paolo Bettini (I), Quickstep, 7:20:21

103. Renaud Dion (F), Paternina – Costa De Almeria, 7:20:34

104. Javier Aramendia Llorente (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 7:20:46

105. Fabio Baldato (I), Lampre, 7:20:47

106. Kim Kirchen (Lux), Team High Road, 7:20:47

107. Bernhard Eisel (A), Team High Road, 7:20:47

108. Maxime Monfort (B), Cofidis, 7:20:48

109. Eddy Serri (I), Miche, 7:20:49

110. Ermanno Capelli (I), Saunier Duval, 7:21:50

111. Massimiliano Maisto (I), NGC, 7:21:50

112. Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Sp), Quickstep, 7:21:51

113. Alan Perez Lezaun (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 7:21:51

114. Paul Martens (G), Rabobank, 7:21:51

115. Laverde Jimenez Luis Felipe (Col), CSF, 7:21:51

116. Eric Berthou (F), Credit Agricole, 7:21:52

117. Aleksandr Kuschynski (Blr), Liquigas, 7:21:52

118. Michael Albasini (Swi), Liquigas, 7:21:52

119. Soler Hernandez Juan M. (Col), Barloworld, 7:21:52

120. Leif Hoste (B), Silence-Lotto, 7:21:53

121. Piergiorgio Camussa (I), NGC, 7:25:57

122. Giairo Ermeti (I), Team L.P.R., 7:25:57

123. Riccardo Chiarini (I), Team L.P.R., 7:25:57

124. William Frischkorn (USA), Slipstream-Chipotle, 7:25:57

125. Filippo Savini (I), CSF, 7:25:57

126. Stefano Usai (I), Miche, 7:25:57

127. Raivis Belohvosciks (Lat), Saunier Duval, 7:27:10

128. Peter Wrolich (A), Gerolsteiner, 7:27:10

129. Andreas Klier (G), Team High Road, 7:27:10

130. Bernhard Kohl (A), Gerolsteiner, 7:27:10

131. Heinrich Haussler (G), Gerolsteiner, 7:27:10

132. Marzio Bruseghin (I), Lampre, 7:27:10

133. Johan Van Summeren (B), Silence-Lotto, 7:27:10

134. Nikita Eskov (Rus), TCS, 7:27:10

135. Maarten Tjallingii (Nl), Silence-Lotto, 7:27:10

136. Grischa Niermann (G), Rabobank, 7:27:10

137. Pasquale Muto (I), Miche, 7:27:10

138. Rony Martias (F), Bouygues Telecom, 7:27:10

139. Nikolai Trussov (Rus), TCS, 7:27:10

140. Tristan Valentin (F), Cofidis, 7:27:10

141. Robert Hunter (RSA), Barloworld, 7:27:10

142. Giampaolo Cheula (I), Barloworld, 7:27:10

143. Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 7:27:10

144. Oroz Ugalde Juan Jose (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 7:27:10

145. Niki Terpstra (Nl), Milram, 7:30:25

146. Krzysztof Szczawinski (Pol), Miche, 7:30:25

147. Simon Gerrans (Aus), Credit Agricole, 7:30:25

148. Gabriel Rasch (Nor), Credit Agricole, 7:30:25

149. Tom Stubbe (B), Francaise des Jeux, 7:30:25

150. Donato Cannone (I), NGC, 7:30:25

151. Raffaele Ferrara (I), Team L.P.R., 7:30:25

152. Roberto Ferrari (I), Team L.P.R., 7:30:25

153. Eros Capecchi (I), Saunier Duval, 7:30:25

154. Claudio Corioni (I), Liquigas, 7:30:25

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