Thursday, March 29, 2007

Milan-San-Redlands

Thoughts on Milan-Sanremo:

I know that many people in the English-speaking (ie arrogant and slightly mis-informed) World think it is actually spelled San Remo but sorry folks…the real name is Sanremo. The problem stems from a mistake made by an Italian official on some documents a few years ago that inadvertently created a new (read-fake) Saint – St. Remo. In case you were wondering…there is no such Saint. Unless he is a patron saint of typos. But in Italy…there is only Sanremo, which should be enough in its own right. From what I can tell, it’s a pretty nice place…even without a fictitious Catholic figurehead.

On a related topic — perhaps in the era of performance enhancing drugs there will be a coronation of St. Romo, in honor of admitted ‘roider Bill Romanowski of 49er, Bronco and Raider fame. Or infamy. The guy literally had a fishing tackle box full of pills, balms and syringes that he would take with him wherever he went. They even did a feature on ESPN about it. Oh…but just like Rumsas – it was all his “dieting” wife’s stuff. At least that’s what he said when the Feds came knocking on his door in Cherry Hills a few years back. That excuse didn’t work so well after he punched a teammate in the eye and ruined his career at a Raiders preseason camp. Not sure if dietary supplements cause ‘roid rage there Billy. This is an interesting legal take on the story if you’re curious.

Anyway…or should I say…Entonces…Oscar Freire confirmed his reputation as the most confusing and devastating bike racer on the planet with another easy looking victory at MSR last Saturday. It’s tough to overlook the 3 World Championship jerseys on his wall but I swear Freire is one of the best “forgotten” riders in the world. Even though he was a former winner of the event it seemed like all the focus was on Boonen, Petacchi, Bettini and the other core of Italians like Bennati and Pozzatto.

Question: Is there a bike racer that wants any piece of Oscar Freire when he’s healthy?

Answer: I don’t think there is. If there is…name one.

Guys like Boonen don’t want him in longer races like the Worlds and MSR that usually come down to sprints and guys like Bettini don’t want him either because he’ll hang with them in late surges and just doesn’t get dropped. He may be one of the most quietly respected riders in the world. Rarely does anyone act like they should have won when Freire beats them. Instead, there is just kind of a sobering acceptance that they were beaten by a better guy. Even the relative “cheapness” of his first MSR victory over the prematurely celebratory Erik Zabel is often seen as testament to his tactical savvy as much as a product of Ete’s mistake. Such a curious career.

If Freire were Italian or Belgian he would be the biggest star in the entire sport. But because he is a Spaniard on a Dutch team that performs in decidedly un-Spanish events…he is often overlooked by the mainstream media. I know he gets hurt a lot and has health issues but find me another rider that peaks at better times and pulls a higher percentage of big wins. I don’t think you can. When he is really on form, I don’t think that there is a tougher matchup than Freire at the end of a race. He is faster than Boonen, Bettini and Valverde and stronger than Petacchi, McEwen or Bennati.

The only thing that can slow down the Spaniard is yet another injury or some more ugly politics like those seen in last year’s Tour de France when he basically let Popovych off the hook during Stage 12 as a result of the Rabo/Disco relationship. If everything was equal (which it is NOT) I have to think he would have hung on to Popo and probably won his third stage of the race. But that’s a whole different story…

Anyway…Freire was not going to lose Milan-Sanremo this year. He was never more than a few places off the front (even though he appeared to be totally alone…maybe Flecha was with him for a minute) and was never in trouble at all. He just sat in, let Quick-Step and the others work and then made Boonen and Petacchi look like little kids on the Via Roma. Textbook. If Freire is healthy I don’t see how anyone can ever pick against him in events like this. 3 Rainbow jerseys and 2 MSR’s aren’t enough for you?

It would also be easy to overlook the performance of Paolo Bettini in this race because he didn’t really garner a top result. But anyone who watched the race will attest to the Cricket’s stunning performance. It should be noted that Bettini wrapped himself around a street sign during Tirreno-Adriatico and suffered a broken rib in addition to a number of other injuries. Last weekend, he was held behind a crash in MSR and made one of the more amazing returns to the group that I can remember. He was well behind the field at the bottom of the Cipressa and the helicopter shot showed him just flying past all the dropped riders in an effort to bridge back up.
Seriously, from the bottom of the climb Bettini must have passed at least 50 riders as he worked his way from group to group and ended up at the front of the peloton by the beginning of the Poggio. Then he took over on the descent and was actually driving the group to catch Ricco and Gilbert. In case you were wondering…these guys Freire and Bettini…they are pretty good bike racers.

What can you say about the rest of the race? Well…Ricardo Ricco and Philippe Gilbert made good moves near the top of the Poggio but were not nearly as impressive as Popo and Bettini. Somehow Popovych managed to get off the front on no fewer than two occasions within the last 15km. And not just little “Voeckler-esque” efforts but real-live “I’m trying to break this race” style action. After he bridged up to Moletta and Pellizotti I was impressed, but after he got caught and then leapt off the front again on the bottom of the Poggio I was amazed. How do you do that? It’s not like they were taking it easy when they caught him the first time. I had to echo Bob Roll’s commentary of the event with a hearty “GO POPO!!” Very impressive stuff.

Not nearly as impressive (or maybe even more so in a sick and twisted way) was the descending skill demonstrated by the Gerolsteiner team. I have had nightmares about Andrea Moletta’s digger/impaling on the descent of the Cipressa and am still having flashbacks of David Kopp’s lifeless body and bloody face from the video coverage. I don’t know what kind of wheels the Water Boys were riding or if there was some kind of new tire used but I will not be anxious to test their gear from Milan-Sanremo considering their results. No fewer than five riders went down and Moletta’s crash was maybe the sickest thing I have seen since Joe Theisman’s leg injury on Monday Night Football.

Bob Roll had the Understatement of the Year when he claimed that Moletta had “Come to grief” after wedging himself between the cement wall and a steel lamp post at 40+ mph, breaking his femur (aka The biggest bone in the human body) and simultaneously causing C-Mac and I to scream at the television as if we had just seen a live homicide. Yeah…I’ll go out on a limb and say there might be some grief associated with that crash.

An interesting and disturbing side note observation was Fabian Wegmann’s reaction to Kopp’s seemingly dead body on the road after three Gerolsteiner riders all went down on one of the Capi descents. At first he was curled up and trying to get himself checked out after eating it but then he went over to Kopp to see if he was okay. Clearly he was not. With blood streaming out of his face as a result of a broken nose and clearly unconscious…it would not have been out of place to think that he was dead. Wegmann stood over his prone teammate and put his hands on his helmet in a show of shock and concern. But then the mechanic came by with a new bike and it was back to the race. So much for your concern Fabian – You have to race. So he got on his new bike, took one more glance at his potentially dead teammate and started flying down the hill in pursuit of the peloton.

Find me another sport that would have the contestants witness a possibly catastrophic injury to an athlete and then just have them jump right back into the fray like nothing had happened. I know Football and Hockey are tough sports but I’ll take a puck to the chin or a shot from a linebacker over a 40+mph digger on asphalt any day. And we don’t even have pads – straight lycra baby. Pads are for wusses and downhill racers.

In the ultimate show of toughness, Moletta made a promise to be back by the Vuelta and Kopp is actually contesting wins already after their brutal crashes. Okay, maybe it was the painkillers talking in Moletta's case but does anyone out there want to argue about the toughness of professional cyclists? I didn’t think so.

Final Verdict – Milan-Sanremo is a tough, long race with lots of crashes and almost always a very deserving winner. Oscar Freire wins just about everything he wants to when healthy…I smell a four-time World Champion in the not-to-distant future. Or maybe that’s just the scent of burnt flesh from all the guys that bit it on the roads of Italy last weekend. Keep the rubber side down fellas…rubber side down. I know it’s a year away but I think Stuart O’Grady will win next year. Just a hunch.

Now for a quick Redlands Recap –

First of all…can a brother get any footage of domestic racing coverage? Please let me know if I am missing a media outlet because it would have been GREAT to see this race. I know most of the courses but it’s tough to do recounted play-by-play with mental images of Oak Glen and Sunset instead of real life images. Is it really easier to just buy the European feed of races like Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-Sanremo? Really Versus?

Secondly…Holy Bajadali. Awesome. I really like Iceman Moninger but he’s won a lot of races (as in like…hundreds and hundreds) and I was happy to see another Boulderite take the cake in Southern California this past weekend. With all due respect to the BMC team and their support of Morning Hair, it is great for American racing to have guys like Baj and teams like Jelly Belly winning events like this.

With some solid team support from Colorado Buffalo Alex Candelario, Bajadali finally got the big result he’s been scratching at for the past few years. I still remember when the guy was rocking the Orange-Green-and-Purple of the Vitamin Cottage team as an amateur and now he has upgraded to the Lime green-and-rainbow of Jelly Belly in the pros.

Good for you Andy…may your next team kit be conservative in its color selection.

It would have also been nice to see Zajicek bridge the gap on Sunday because the math on his podium-crashing move was rather impressive. Five minutes to close a 1:20 gap on the likes of Wherry, Baldwin, Swindlehurst, Wohlberg and Jacques-Maynes is no joke at all. For real…but it resulted in a podium so it was worth it.

Too bad we couldn’t watch it happen.

2 comments:

TheJenksster said...

I agree, Freire is incredible when he's not injured. Plus, he does it with barely any team support when compared to Boonen, McEwen, Petacchi, et al.

Leadout train? What leadout train?

Olaf Vanderhoot said...

excellent.