Thursday, March 29, 2007

rainbow stripes

This past weekend the pro tour boys over in Europe raced Milan San Remo, the first of the big one day spring classics and by many accounts the biggest prize (especially for the Italian riders) of them all. Paris-Roubaix & Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) are probably more entertaining to watch because of the mass carnage and unusual selection that happens over the cobbled sections but MSR is a very hard race to win. The race has two nicknames ("La Primivera" & "La Classicissima") and is so important that the two multi day stage races the week before are considered warm ups. The course is long, about 180 miles with the selection made in the last 20k or so where riders hit two climbs in rapid succession: La Cipressa and the legendary Poggio with a nasty decent between the two. If the sprinters can hang with the leaders on those last climbs, it will be a fast finish, but a break can get away and win as well. You never really know until the very end. It's really a great race.

Great races deserve great champions and this year was no exception. The current world champion is quickly becoming a legend. He fell three times and fractured a rid in Tirreno-Adriatico (one of those warm up races mentioned earlier) but started MSR anyway. Being Italian and the current WC means you start MSR even if your leg is off. So Bettini crashes in MSR, twice, and considers withdrawing before a teammates talks him into continuing on. He's well back of the field after the crashes, but reels them all back in, rides straight through the group on the Cipressa, and leads the charge on the descent to bring back the last breakaway to help his team's sprinter get in the best position to win. Watching Bettini charge through the field and then throw himself down that hill was incredible: 5 crashes in a weeks time and here's the rainbow jersey doing grunt work for a teammate. He finished 33rd and his sprinting teammate didn't win, but he rode a great race and did the jersey proud. The racae was won by another classy former World Champion, Oscar Friere.

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