March 20, 2004
Milan-San Remo: Zabel blows it at the line
T-Mobile's Erik Zabel, a 6-time Tour green jersey winner and 4-time Milan-San Remo winner, made a rookie mistake on Sunday to blow his chance at a first victory this season, throwing his arms up in triumph before crossing the line, and letting Rabobank's Oscar Freire, world champion in 1999 and 2001, nip him on the finish line.
“I can’t believe it,” Zabel said tonight. “I came round Petacchi and was so sure that I’d won. I raised my arms to celebrate. Then I saw Freire under my right shoulder.”
Zabel adds to a string of second-place finishes this year, with Stuart O'Grady of Cofidis third, and Italian super-sprinter Alessandro Petacchi of Fassa Bortolo relegated to fourth, the first bunch sprint he's lost this year.
Milan-San Remo's length (about 180 miles), and a couple of climbs in the last 20 miles, tend to sap the legs of the specialist sprinters. Mario Cipollini fell off the lead bunch on the penultimate climb, and never rejoined the leaders:
“Mario simply isn’t competitive at the moment,” Cipollini’s team manager Vincenzo Santoni told us. A few metres away the Lion King was keeping his own counsel in the Domina Vacanze team-bus. “At least a ‘campione’ won,” Santoni continued. “Petacchi? It’s one thing to win a sprint after 200km, another thing to do it after nearly 300.”
Other results of note: US Postal's Max van Heeswijk was 5th overall, and George Hincapie of USPS was 13th. Defending Milan-San Remo winner Paolo Bettini, who tried to repeat last year's success with a breakaway attempt on the Poggio, couldn't stay away in a stiff headwind, and finished 8th.
Bike.com quotes Petacchi:
Petacchi made his move with 100 metres to go and Zabel followed suit before overtaking the "disappointed" Italian, who admitted he may have misjudged his final sprint.
"I lost just like I did at Paris-Tours," said the Italian, who last season became the first ever rider to win at least three stages in all the Tours of Italy, France and Spain.
"I had a great team around me and I've let them down. The Cipressa and Poggio (climbs) were raced at a very fast pace and I think I paid for that in the sprint, where my legs just gave out. "I think I probably attacked too early."
On winner Freire:
Freire is now hoping to maintain his lead in the World Cup - with a view to taking the rainbow jersey from two-time defending champion Bettini.
"Last year the World Cup jersey was my main aim, but I couldn't get near it," said Freire who should compete in all ten races this season except for Paris-Roubaix on April 11.
"This time I hope to be able to maintain my run of results until the end (of the competition). I'm likely to meet Bettini a lot along the way, so it's not going to be easy."