On 23 March, the 2002 World Cup begins with the “classicissima”, of course I’m talking about Milano-Sanremo.
And when you talk about it, you cannot forget Mr Sanremo, Erik Zabel – The German champion of Team Telekom.
In the last 5 years he has won 4 editions of the race. In 1999 he arrived 2nd, behind Tchmil.
Now he just finished his preparation with Tirreno-Adriatico, where he showed great condition.
He will be the favourite – the man who everyone will try to control.
But when someone says that to him, he replies “it’s normal for me. It happens in many races where I run. I don’t care, and yet I continue to win”.
This year he’ll be without one big helper, Gianmatteo Fagnini, who crashed out at Tirreno 2002.
That could be a problem for him, but anyway, he has a team which is very strong.
“We have lots of experience, we tried and tried again. I have a big debt of gratitude to my mate. With Fassa Bortolo and Mapei, we have one of the most strong team of the group. We choose the riders for the Sanremo with Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice. Around me, there are riders of big talent, who know what to do.”
Always a favorite, never a winner, the Lion King, Mario Cipollini was 2nd, after a super sprint last year.
Now he has changed teams, having left Saeco for Acqua e Sapone.
And never one to mix his words, he attacked his ex team for not helping him enough last year.
“I watched the Sanremo of last year many times. And I think the one who was leading my sprint, should have done much better. I don’t say more.
Last year Saeco didn’t believe in me, I lost it the night before, in the hotel.
Now my team is better than what I had last year.
Perdiguero, Lombardi, Scirea, Trenti, Colombo are men of big quality, and into the team there are clear pacts: when there is Cipollini, everybody must work for him and only for him.
When there won’t be Cipollini, everyone will have his space.”
He did the general’s tests at last stage of Tirreno 2002, and the team worked perfectly.
Another man who dreams about this race is Oscar Freire, the World Champion.
The Spanish discovered their interest for the classics because of him.
“Everybody is waiting for my victory. It’s a race which I like, it’s right for me.
But it won’t be easy. Zabel in that day is very concentrated. At the same condition, it’s important the mentality. And at Sanremo, Zabel is always concentrating at 100%. He is a favourite, because it is like his home: for Erik arrives to Sanremo it’s as to arrive at home.”
But in Mapei there isn’t only Freire, another rider who can win is Bettini.
“Of course also he will try, but if we arrive at the Poggio with a group, than he will help me.” Says Friere.
Another team which has big chances to win la Primavera is Fassa Bortolo.
At the moment, they have Petacchi in great condition (6 victories for him so far).
And he will have a big team, with many riders ready to help him.
But Ferretti, the team menager, also hopes for Bartoli and Casagrande.
About Zabel he said “in the sprints after 280 kms, he isn’t strong, he is really strong.”
DANILO Di LUCA
Another rider who seems in good condition these days is Di Luca.
The young rider of Saeco ran a really good Tirreno 2002.
But for him, they are expecting a hard race, and he will try to escape any place he can.
About Zabel, “without Zabel, many Sanremos didn’t finish with a sprint. He makes his opponents
feel uneasy. Because when they watch behind, they see ever him. And beside that, he has a strong team, with riders of high quiality.”
Other riders who seem in good condition are Erik Dekker (Rabobank), Robby McEwen (Lotto), and Laurent Jalabert (Csc-Tiscali).
Perhaps the real favorite is Erik Dekker just won the Tirreno 2002, and also if he isn’t at the top, Rabobank is a team to control.
He hasn’t big chances for the sprint, but he is a dangerous man in any escape.
And, if the group will arrive at the sprint, they will try the “option” Markus Zberg, a good sprinter.
At Lotto, the one rider in the best condition is McEwen. The Australian rider has already won several sprints, and he seems to have the chance to try at the important race. At Paris-Nice he showed a good condition.
Tchmil, the leader of that team, didn’t really show at Tirreno any “number”, so we’ll have to see if he comes up big this weekend.
Jalabert (Csc-Tiscali) started this year faster than the last.
He looks to be on track for a good first part of season, and we can only wait for the inevitable attack from Jaja.
The other Belgian team, Domo, is without its sprinter Roman Vainsteins.
The ex world champion is at the hospital for a minor operation.
And they are also without the other leader, Museeuw.
At Tirreno, the best were Enrico Cassani and Fred Rodriguez.
Gerolsteiner will try and play the “Ruskys” card. The Lithuanian sprinter seems the only chance, because the leader Rebellin has not found his form yet. His objectives are still far off.
There are still 3 riders which can do well at that race. Jan Svorada (Lampre-Daikin), Ivan Quaranta (Index-Alexia Alluminio) and Endrio Leoni (Alessio) – 3 sprinters which started well in these first months.
At this Milano-Sanremo there is a return at the races for Marco Pantani.
He did some races in Spain, and after some days of training in his Emilia, he will ride for the first time this year in Italy.
Many fans of the cycling world are waiting with impatience for Saturday for another reason… the return of 3-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
Of course he isn’t in a condition to fight for the victory, but it’s always nice see him.
The leader of Us Postal for this race will be George Hincapie.
Also this year there will be the climb of Bric Berton, a hill which the organization inserted last year to reaplce the Turchino Pass which was dameged by heavy rains. Last year the teams were afraid of it, but this year it’s just the opposite.
At 140 kms from the finish there are teams which will try to force a selection, and there will be many attacks.
Because they know… if they will arrive at the Poggio, it will be too late.
Zabel was wrong just one time, and he isn’t wrong often at Sanremo.
So stay tuned to ProCycling News for race reports and lots more news from the pro peloton!