MILAN-SAN REMO ANALYSIS: WHY THE OBVIOUS MOVE PAID OFF

Fabian Cancellara’s late attack, just a couple of kilometres from the finish line, was so obvious he could have instructed the CSC soigneurs to string banners across the road counting down the kilometres to the moment when he’d begin his acceleration.

In our preview, Cycling Weekly speculated on the likelihood of the Swiss machine replicating his last-gasp attack from the peloton when the Tour de France reached Compiegne in July.

It was clear there was only one way Cancellara was going to win La Primavera, by attacking late on and using his power, his time trialling ability and his near-perfect position on the bike to hold off the sprinters.

So, if everyone knew it was going to happen, why couldn’t they stop him?

We look at the factors that tipped the pendulum in Cancellara’s favour during the longest Classic of the season.

1. THE PACE ON LE MANIEcolour>
A climb that comes 94 kilometres from the finish can never be seen as decisive, but the new climb of Le Manie – inserted because of a landslide on the traditional route – actually played a huge role in shaping the final stages of the race.

Rabobank and Milram had been on the front prior to the climb, limiting the lead of the four escapees. But when it came to the 4.7-kilometre hill, Liquigas, riding for 2006 winner Filippo Pozzato, and Lampre, for their leader Alessandro Ballan, made the pace extremely hot. The bunch cut more than five minutes out of the leading group’s advantage on the run-up to Le Manie and the hill itself.

The consequence was that the sprinters were dealt a severe blow. It wasn’t that the likes of Petacchi and Freire were sent reeling to the back of the peloton, but their domestiques were. The pace on the climb stunned the legs of many riders and they would pay for the efforts they made there.

2. BIG NAMES ATTACK ON THE CIPRESSAcolour>
It was all over the Italian press on the morning of the race. Some big names were talking loudly about how it was going to kick off on the Cipressa. Perhaps it is an indication of a sea-change in the peloton. Perhaps there are no longer 160 riders capable of keeping up with the supremely gifted? Perhaps the stars have a renewed confidence that they can snap the elastic.

It was none other than the world champion, Paolo Bettini, who attacked first. The riders who eventually joined up with him were no also-rans either – Thomas Lovkvist, Davide Rebellin, Paolo Savoldelli and Niklas Axelsson.

Because of the identity of the attackers, the chase between the Cipressa and the Poggio was extremely fierce, further burdening the men the sprinters would want by their side on the run-in.

3. CANCELLARA’S POSITIONING ON THE POGGIOcolour>
The Swiss rider knew he would be marked, but then he’s a man who has jumped out of the Tour de France peloton while wearing the yellow jersey. You don’t get much more visible than that.

But his intelligence shone through on the climb of the Poggio. He was there, always third or fourth in line on the second half of the climb, never looking in difficulty, never panicking. Even when the dangerous Philippe Gilbert of Francaise des Jeux attacked he didn’t respond rashly.

4. THE FIELD SPLITcolour>
RAI television always positions a camera on the first hairpin on the descent of the Poggio and the director sticks with the picture until a good 60 or so riders have gone past. In recent years, while there may have been a couple of groups on the attack at the front, the bunch has taken the corner in a continuous line.

Not this year. It was split to bits, with gaps opening up after the first dozen or so riders and then at regular intervals. It meant there would be no organised chase once they got off the descent and onto the flat roads.

5. GILBERT’S FLAWED DESCENTcolour>
If you’re going to attack on the false flat at the top of the Poggio, you have to have a perfect descent to hold your gap, otherwise you’re toast. Gilbert was toast.

6. SPRINTERS WITHOUT TEAM-MATEScolour>
When the group of 15 or so coagulated at the bottom of the Poggio the most notable fact was that only a few sprinters were in it. Oscar Freire of Rabobank, Thor Hushovd of Credit Agricole, Enrico Gasparotto of Barloworld and, to a lesser extent, Bouygues Telecom’s Anthony Geslin.

Crucially, the Milram big hitters – Petacchi and Zabel – were in the group behind. And even more importantly, neither Freire or Hushovd had a team-mate with them.

There would be no lead-out, it was every man for himself. One shot at goal, one chance to hit the target.

7. AND SO, IT WAS JUST A MATTER OF TIMINGcolour>
Cancellara didn’t have long to weigh up his chances but what he would have known was that, of all the riders in that front group, he was the one who could afford to go from furthest out.

He couldn’t leave it until 600 metres to go because he didn’t want anyone else to join up from the rear – particularly not the sprinters, and definitely not someone like Ballan, who might launch an immediate attack.

Secondly, he wouldn’t want to delay and hand the impetus to Pozzato or Gilbert who would have a better chance with a shorter run to the line.

So, once Rebellin had made his abortive attempt and Euskaltel’s Inigo Landaluze had launched a half-hearted effort, it was time to go.

Ten metres was all he needed to break the spirits of his chasers. Once he’d got that gap, it was game over. The chasers all knew that if they put in a big turn or tried to bridge across, all they could achieve would be to carve out an opportunity for someone else, so what was the point?

RELATED LINK
Milan-San Remo report