Oscar Freire won the 101st Milan-San Remo in a sprint from a group of about 25 riders. It was the third win of La Primavera for Rabobank’s three-time world champion. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) was second and Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini) came third.
After the field shattered over the Cipressa, and then attacks out of the resulting small front group on the Poggio were neutralized, Liquigas led out the sprint for Daniele Bennati. But Freire, marked by Boonen, was sitting right behind. When Freire jumped, he immediately opened a gap and kept the power on all the way to the line.
Freire described the result as “an extraordinary victory.”
“Winning in San Remo is always a fantastic feeling,” he said. “I’m really pleased that I managed to do it again. My teammates worked very hard today and kept in good position and out of trouble. I have to dedicate this victory to them.”
Boonen, meanwhile, said that he simply didn’t have the sprint to match the three-time world champion. (To see how today’s stage developed, check out VeloNews.com’s Live Update)
“I gave everything I could in that sprint,” Boonen said. “I was in good position, but I just could not get on to his wheel. In the end, he had me by two bike lengths.”
The season’s longest day
It was raining in Milan when 199 riders took the start for the 298-kilometer race down to the warmer coast and then southwest along the coast to the finish in downtown San Remo.
Five former winners were present: Mark Cavendish (2009), Fabian Cancellara (2008), Freire (2007 and 2004), Fillipo Pozzato (2006) and Petacchi (2005).
A three-man attack went right from the gun and built up a maximum lead of nearly 23 minutes. The trio was Aristide Ratti (Carmiooro-NGC), Fabrice Piemontesi (Androni Giocattoli) and Diego Caccia (ISD-Neri).
Quick Step took up the chase for Boonen, and as the peloton climbed the Passo del Turchino, the gap was down to 16:20 as the rain started up again.
A crash, compounded by a crosswind, split the peloton, and some of the big names were caught out. With the three leaders 8:20 ahead of the main chase group, an 80-man group contained Cavendish (HTC-Columbia), Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen and Petacchi.
Most of the big names made the front split, however, including George Hincapie (BMC), Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam), Pozzato, Boonen and Cancellara (Saxo Bank).
At about 95km to go, the three-man break was caught, but it took another 30km before the second main group with Cavendish caught the front. At the peloton relaxed at 62km remaining, Ag2r’s Maxime Bouet took a flyer.
At 45km from the finish, he held out alone with a chase group 45 seconds behind. The group contained Maxime Monfort (HTC), Laurent Beuret (Carmiooro), Alan Perez Lezaun (Euskaltel), Dmytro Grabovskyy (ISD), Manuele Mori (Lampre), Roy Sentjens (Milram) and Frank Hoj (Saxo).
The chase group came apart before it caught Bouet, and only Grabovskyy made it across. When he did, he simply rode right past Bouet.
With 32km to go, Grabovskyy rode alone to the Cipressa, the critical second-to-last climb of the day. Lampre drove the charge to the base of the climb, with Cavendish suffering at the back.
The searing pace did its damage on Cavendish and most of the field, with only 30 men or so able to retain contact with the front of the race.
Over the top of the Cipressa, some riders splintered off the front, including Pozzato, but they were regained on the decent. Yoann Offredo (Française dex Jeux), however, attacked alone and got a 18-second gap.
With only about 30 riders left in contention in the main front group, HTC’s Michael Rogers attacked, but got nowhere.
Coming into San Remo with his head down and 12km to race, Offredo still held off his chasers. He was caught on the final climb, the decisive Poggio. With 8km to go, Stefano Garzelli (Aqua & Sapone) forced the pace at the front.
At 7km to go, again Rogers took a hard dig off the front. He didn’t get clear, but his efforts strained the front group into a thin line.
Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) countered, with Pozzato quickly latching onto his wheel. With 6km to go, Pozzato took the front as the race swept around a corner and dropped steeply down to begin the tight descent to flat finish. There were about 25 men still in contention at this point.
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) attacked into a tight corner, and while four riders made it to his wheel, a small gap opened to the rest of the group. They were caught, but with 2.6km to go, Nibali attacked again, and Pozzato jumped across and over the top.
Winding through the downtown corners of San Remo, Pozzato held a few seconds’ advantage temporarily, and was only caught just outside the final kilometer by Liquigas.
Liquigas worked in earnest for the next 800 meters, but it was the final 200 meters that counted. And it was there where Freire owned the day.
1. Oscar Freire Gomez (Esp), Rabobank, 298km in 6:57:28
2. Tom Boonen (Bel), Quick Step, at 0:00
3. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita), Lampre-N.G.C, at 0:00
4. Sacha Modolo (Ita), Csf Group-Navigare, at 0:00
5. Daniele Bennati (Ita), Liquigas Doimo, at 0:00
6. Thor Hushovd (Nor), Cervelo Test Team, at 0:00
7. Francesco Ginanni (Ita), Androni Giocattoli-Serramenti Pvc Diquigiovanni, at 0:00
8. Maxim Iglinsky (Kaz), Astana, at 0:00
9. Philippe Gilbert (Bel), Omega Pharma-Lotto, at 0:00
10. Luca Paolini (Ita), Acqua & Sapone-Caffe Mokambo, at 0:00