Freire's woe, Valverde's threat

Oscar Freire and Alejandro Valverde left Milan-San Remo empty-handed and brooding over missed opport

Oscar Freire and Alejandro Valverde left Milan-San Remo empty-handed and brooding over missed opport
The two halves of the Spanish Armada strongly fancied for victory at Saturday's Milan-San Remo, Oscar Freire and Alejandro Valverde, both found themselves ruing the volatile nature of the race the Italians call "la Vecchia Signora" last night. Despite the scarcity of orange Rabobank jerseys at the very front of the race in the closing kilometres, Freire claimed that "everything had been going perfectly until the final 500 metres." The reigning world road race champion, whose fifth place allowed Petacchi to take over his ProTour leader's jersey, explained: "Everything was going wonderfully over the Cipressa and Poggio. My legs felt great all day and we still had six Rabobank riders in the bunch on the Poggio. Erik Dekker then did a great job to chase back Rebellin and company when they attacked off the Poggio. The sprint was slower than I had hoped. A Gerolsteiner rider and Boonen both got in my way and I ended up boxed in, losing Petacchi's wheel. I couldn't do the sprint I wanted. It's too bad. I had got myself in really good shape for the race." For his part, Valverde confirmed the good form he showed in winning the final stage of Paris-Nice last Sunday, briefly joining the five-man group which had extricated itself at the top of the Poggio. Too tired to contest the sprint when the peloton came back together, the Illes Balears prodigy crossed the line in his first Milan-San Remo in 33rd place. Valverde didn't seem too enamoured after his first encounter with La Classicissima: "I finished in the lead bunch so I am satisfied," the 24-year-old former Kelme man said last night. "I tried my best on the Poggio but it didn't work and we were caught. I've realised that this isn't a good race for me. I'll never be able to beat pure sprinters in a race like this. This might be my first and last time in this race: Obviously, of the Classics, it's the Ardennes races that are made for me." Someone should perhaps have whispered Valverde's ear that rumours of an impending change to the San Remo route are reaching fever pitch. It now appears almost certain that, in an effort to loosen the sprinters' stranglehold on the race, organisers RCS will replace the Cipressa with the Pompeiana climb on next year's route. Measuring 6.7km and with an average gradient of 5.3% (with one section of 13%), the Pompeiana may not be prohibitively difficult, but it will halve the respite available to riders before the Poggio (4.4km compared to the Cipressa's 9km).
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