Petacchi achieves San Remo dream

After his Fassa Bortolo team keep the race under control for him, Alessandro Petacchi delivers a win

After his Fassa Bortolo team keep the race under control for him, Alessandro Petacchi delivers a win
Alessandro Petacchi, of Fassa Bortolo, kept his date with destiny in the Via Roma, San Remo, this afternoon (Saturday) to easily win the 96th Milan-San Remo in a sprint finish. So emphatic was Petacchi's win that his rivals were reduced to spectators as the 'gentleman sprinter' powered clear to win by some distance. Beyond the line, Petacchi, many of his team-mates and some of the more partisan elements in the Italian media, were reduced to tears as they celebrated a famous victory. In the end, the challenge of all the other contenders - Tom Boonen, Alejandro Valverde, Paolo Bettini and Mario Cipollini among others - had fizzled out as Petacchi's speed and class won the day. As has been the case in recent years, much of the drama was contained within the final hour of over seven of hard racing. In the morning, soon after the bunch left Milan, a five-man break escaped at 33 kilometres. Jimmy Casper (Cofidis), Inaki Flores (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Daniele Righi (Lampre-Caffita), Mauro Santambrogio (LPR) and Filippo Simeoni (Naturino), the European scene's 'anti-hero', were the leading lights of the first half of the longest Classic on the calendar. Inevitably, the quintet built up a huge head of steam and stayed clear across the Milanese flatlands, building a lead in excess of 17 minutes. They lost a little time as the bunch finally reacted, but rode over the top of the Turchino Pass and reached the coastline at Voltri, with a lead still nudging a quarter of an hour. Soon, however, as the bunch picked up greater speed, it was "gruppo compatto" - the words came over race radio 50 kilometres from the finish, not long after the race had passed through Alassio and climbed the Capo Mele. As the five dawn raiders were swept away by the peloton, those watching the climactic kilometres of the 96th Milan-San Remo were resigned to a sprint finish. With the Cofidis team working hard for Stuart O'Grady's hopes and Magnus Backstedt prominent for Liquigas, the favourites -Boonen, Pettachi, Oscar Freire, Mirko Celestino and Mario Cipollini - began massing at the front of the bunch. The real drama began with 30 kilometres to race, as a crash involving the heart of the bunch caused a split on the fast approach to the Cipressa. By the time those stranded by the crash dusted themselves off, the front of the race was swinging inland, through the olive groves, on the first gradients of the Cipressa climb. Paolo Tiralongo (Panaria) and Francesco Casagrande (Naturino) broke clear on the winding bends of the climb, but only briefly, and were soon caught as the race sped over the false flat at the top of the Cipressa and launched itself back down towards the sea. Forcing the pace was local boy Celestino (Domina Vacanze) - also celebrating his 31st birthday - who swung his way through the tight curves plunging downhill. It was spectacular stuff, yet it was Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) who made the big impact, taking advantage of a momentary lull on the coast road between the bottom of the Cipressa and the foot of the Poggio to move clear. Andrei Kashechkin of Crdit Agricole was quickly on Bettini's wheel and the pair opened a gap of 26 seconds as they neared the foot of the Poggio. Twenty-five-year-old Kashechkin hung onto Bettini's wheel despite looking as if he was suffering with cramp (or shell shock). Barely 10 days ago, Quick Step boss Patrick Lefvre told procycling that Bettini's form was causing concern. But there was little sign of that, as he and Kashechkin powered to the foot of the Poggio. Yet with Fassa Bortolo's train leading the pursuit, the leading duo's break looked fragile in the extreme, despite Bettini's efforts to urge his companion forward. So it proved. Angel Vicioso shot out of the bunch to move ahead of the pair, as Fassa continued to string the field out but with 7km to go the race came back together near the top of the Poggio. The stage, it seemed, was set for more drama. However, the big-hitters' attacks never really materialised; once again, it was Celestino - with Davide Rebellin, (Gerolsteiner) Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), and Fassa policeman Kim Kirchen - who was first onto the descent, albeit with a gap of barely five seconds and with the main group of sprinters hot on his heels. Local hero Celestino led down the Poggio but to no avail; on the final run-in, the Fassa team, with two kilometres to go, again pulled the race back together. In the mad scramble for the line, with over seven hours on racing in their legs, the field sped towards the Via Roma. But from that point, with his team having worked so hard, and, after spending so much of the winter dreaming about victory on the Via Roma, Petacchi knew it was time for him to assume centre stage. As Bettini swung off the front and looked over his shoulder for team-mate Boonen, Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) optimistically launched the sprint, only to find himself blown away by the Petacchi jet stream. In the biggest one-day race in Italian cycling, the Fassa leader emphatically confirmed his mantle as Mario Cipollini's natural successor. 1 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 294km in 7.11.39 (40.87kph) 2 Danilo Hondo (Ger) Gerolsteiner 3 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crdit Agricole 4 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis 5 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 6 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Franaise des Jeux 7 Ruggero Marzoli (Ita) Acqua e Sapone 8 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step 9 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 10 Manuele Mori (Ita) Saunier Duval 14 Erik Zabel (Ger) T-Mobile 15 Allan Davis (Aus) Liberty Seguros 21 Roger Hammond (GB) Discovery Channel 33 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Illes Balears 34 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile 36 Mario Cipollini (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 42 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step 0.07 48 Fred Rodriguez (USA) Davitamon-Lotto 0.09 65 Bradley McGee (Aus) Franaise des Jeux 1.05 84 Matthew White (Aus) Cofidis 4.15 88 Bradley Wiggins (GB) Crdit Agricole 7.13 89 Michael Barry (Can) Discovery Channel 90 Hayden Roulston (NZ) Discovery Channel 91 Baden Cooke (Aus) Franaise des Jeux 96 Julian Dean (NZ) Crdit Agricole 121 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Franaise des Jeux 10.28 136 David George (SA) Barloworld 13.40 153 Matthew Wilson (Aus) Franaise des Jeux 18.00

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