Milan San Remo Title
Milan-San Remo, 20 March 2004, Preview

Saturday 20 March 2004 will see Milan-San Remo open the Cycling World Cup as it has done every year since 1989. The course returns to its traditional route and distance for the first time since 2000.
The Capo Mele was omitted last year and the Turchino in 2001 and 2002 due to the effects of landslides. The distance to be covered is 294 km making it the longest one-day race of the season. In Milan on Saturday morning the riders will start arriving on the Piazza Sant Ambrogio from 0730 with signing on from 0800 to 0840. The field of around 200 will then roll out of the Piazza Sant Ambrogio at 0915 for the official departure on the via della Chiesa Rossa at 0930. The Peloton then crosses the Lombardy plain before encountering the first climb of the day, the 532m high Turchino Pass which is just short of half distance. The snow on the Turchino should have decreased due to the very warm temperature over Italy during the last few days. 12 km of rapid descending brings the race onto the Ligurian coast at Voltri. From here the race mainly follows this coastal route apart from short excursions inland to tackle the capi. The capi, or hills, come with 50 km remaining and is where the excitement really begins.

For some time there was talk of a new climb, the Pompeiana, being inserted between the Cipressa and the Poggio. Apparently this climb was to be 'tested' during the first stage of the Giro Della Liguria last February. The stage Castellaro-Castellaro did not get permission for safety reasons because the necessary documentation had not been sent in time. Also the newspapers in Italy speak about the possible Cipollini-Petacchi duel on the via Roma which may be why the organisers have not changed the final run in hoping for a sprint finish between the two Italian riders. Cipollini may be past his best at almost 37 years of age with Petacchi getting the better of him recently. San Remo though is a different matter altogether with 'Cipo' saying, "I'll be 150 per cent motivated and out to win again."

The defending champion Paolo Bettini must start as hot favourite following his overall victory in Tirreno-Adriatico. However Bettini would join an elite group as only Girardengo, Bartali, Coppi, Petrucci, Merckx, De Vlaeminck, Fignon and Zabel have ever won the Milan-San Remo in consecutive years. Filippo Pozzato who won stage three of the Giro Della Liguria and the Trofeo Laigueglia earlier this season is a possible winner. Pozzato was given a maximum five stars before the Tirreno-Adriatico which he had won in 2003. He did however have a quiet race finishing in 35th place behind Bettini. Pozzato's chances of victory in San Remo last year came to an end when he crashed on the descent of the Cipressa.

Others who have a good chance of victory include Igor Astarloa, Mirko Celestino, Peter Van Petegem and Max Van Heeswijk, but come 4pm on Saturday afternoon there is a good chance Italy will be celebrating their 49th victory in 'La Classicissima'

Sanremo sign photograph P Griffiths