In Italy, it’s always a good day of bike racing when an Italian wins an Italian race. Last year, Alessandro Petacchi treated the tifosi to a spectacular sprint finish in Milano-Sanremo (complete with uncontrollable tears of joy). He was hoping to be able to do it again this year, even though current World Champion Tom Boonen (Team Quick.Step) and Boonen’s teammate Paolo Bettini were both looking like they’d be good challengers. In the end, however, it was yet another Quick.Step rider, Italian Filippo Pozzato, who claimed victory.
Before the race, Pozzato was proudly showing off his new bike seat, which sported a picture of a “blond angel.” Clearly, he had wings today – and not just on the saddle.
After only 27km of the 294km race, an eight-man breakaway managed to get away – and after 140km, the break still had an eight minute lead on the peloton. The team of Petacchi (Team Milram) was doing the bulk of the hard work to bridge the gap – so much so that when the group was all back together again, Petacchi was left with very few teammates to help him in the final stretch to the finish line. Pozzato got himself into a three-man break just before the final climb (the famous Poggio) with just over 5km to go in the race. He pulled away with 350 meters to go – and just didn’t stop. Petacchi managed to cut Pozzato’s lead from 10 meters to one bike length by the finish line, so if the finish had been but a bit further down the road (and had his team not been so thoroughly cooked already) “Ale-Jet” might have had a repeat victory. This picture cracks me up – it looks like three victory salutes, but it’s really (from left to right): Boonen cheering for Pozzato, Petacchi about ready to put his hands over his face in frustration, and Pozzato being elated that he’s won.
But today was all about Pozzato, and his teammates Bettini and Boonen who seemed just as happy for him as if they’d won the race themselves. Former Milano-Sanremo winner and World Champion “Super” Mario Cipollini, looking as stylish as he ever did on the bike, was on hand to deliver the winner’s trophy to Pozzato, and seemed pleased to be seeing new Italian faces on the winner’s podium.
As an aside, Boonen seems like a genuinely good guy – which only feeds into his image as a heartthrob among female fans. Oh, and his claim during last year’s Tour de France that he was abstaining from sex in order to put all his power into his riding probably didn’t hurt, either. I can only imagine the girls who lined up to greet him when he was done with the Tour…
I’ll leave you with a few pictures from today’s race – if you can look at these and not come away believing that this is, indeed, a beautiful sport, then you’re not paying attention. Enjoy.