Milan San Remo Title
   
Oscar Freire sprints to victory
   
San Remo, 20 March 2004 - Oscar Freire sprinted to victory on the Via Roma to take his first victory in Milan-San Remo. He became only the second rider from Spain to win La Classicissima. Freire also became the first Spanish rider to wear the World Cup leaders jersey.
194 riders left Milan at 09.38 in hazy, calm conditions with the temperature a mild 12 degrees. A non-starter was Brett Lancaster of the Panaria-Fiordo team.
   
Danilo Di Luca leaves the sign on area Start of 2004 Sanremo - Max Van Heeswijk
   
Alexandre Vinokourov Mario Cipollini
Piazza Sant Ambrogio pictures above Earl Zimmerman - cyclebluemountain.com
   
Andrea Tafi was first to the front with only 1 km covered. This and several other early breaks came to nothing. The first crash of the day at 38 km saw the French rider Carlos Dacruz (FDJeux.com) taken to hospital in Pavia where he was found to have a fractured vertabra. A serious escape came at km 60 when Nicolas Portal (Ag2R Prevoyance), Antonio Tauler (Illes Balears), Ludo Dierckxsens (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) and Carlos Barredo (Liberty Seguros) escaped. The four leaders were chased by Giulio Tomi (Vini Caldirola) who joined them at 75 km as the race neared Tortona. Their lead at this time over the gruppo was 11' 15" and by km 100 it had grown to a maximum of 17 minutes. The average speed for the first three hours was 39.440 km/h. As they approached the biggest climb of the day the peloton led by the Fassa Bortolo, Rabobank and Phonak teams increased speed and slowly started to pull the fugitives back. In the locality of Masone the deficit was 12' 20". Nicolas Portal was first to the foggy summit of the 532m high Passo del Turchino. With 155 km to the finish the lead had been cut back to 10' 30" as Bettinis' Quick Step Davitamon comrades assisted the chase.
   
Carlos Dacruz victim of first crash Nicolas Portal was first to the summit of the Passo del Turchino
Photo Alessandro Federico
   
Peloton arrives at summit of Turchino
Photo Alessandro Federico
Descent of a foggy Passo del Turchino
   
Onto the Ligurian coast at Voltri and the Via Aurelia. The five escapers lead by 12 minutes, the increase due to the fact that the gruppo had slowed. As the race passed into the Province of Savona the Rabobank team, with Oscar Freire in mind, helped to liven up the chase again. The effect was to slowly reduce the advantage of the break. At km 177-Celle Ligure it was 10' 50", km 204-Varigotta 8' 30", km 218-Loano 8' 00". Going into the second feed zone at Ceriale, with the peloton only 6' 25" back, the break appeared to be resigned to the fact that they would soon be caught. Each rider was doing his share of the work on the front but no real effort seemed to be there.
   
The peloton at Savona Ludo Dierckxsens leads the break
   
The 65m high ascent of Capo Mele, the first of the coastal hills, saw the Belgian rider Ludo Dierckxsens attack briefly splitting the leaders into two groups. The descent again saw an unsuccessful attack. At this point Barredo punctured but rejoined. On Capo Berta Ludo Dierckxsens attacked once again and went ahead alone. Back onto the Via Aurelia and heading for the Cipressa he had only 25" on the fast moving bunch. Dierckxsens was eventually caught at the foot of the Cipressa after being out in front for 202 km.
On the Cipressa Bettini went to the front stringing out the gruppo behind him but with Alexandre Vinokourov (T Mobile Team) in close attendance. Next to try was Erik Dekker (Rabobank) along with Steffen Wesemman (T Mobile Team) but were caught before the top. Mario Cipollini was seen to struggle and received a push from one of his team-mates! His chance of winning San Remo for a second time appeared over when he was dropped. Mirko Celestino attacked on the descent of the Cipressa and gained a lead of 12". Three riders, Michele Bartoli (Team CSC), Davide Rebellin (Gerosteiner) and Leon Van Bon (Lotto-Domo) crashed on a bend chasing Celestino. Celestino was eventually caught just after the tunnel at Arma di Taggia.
   
Dekker and Wesemann attack on the Cipressa Rebellin following his crash
   
Onto the Poggio first was Fabio Sacchi (Fassa Bortolo) hoping to keep the race together for Petacchi. Matteo Carrara (Lampre) was the first to attack but was soon caught and dropped by Erik Dekker (Rabobank) and Angel Vicioso (Liberty Seguros). Oscar Pereiro Sio (Phonak) chased and joined the two leaders. Vinokourov and then Paolo Bettini counter attacked with the latter going over the top of the Poggio first. With less than 6 km remaining the gruppo descended the Poggio in a line. It was now a bunch sprint for sure.
   
Pereiro Sio leads Dekker and Vicioso on the Poggio Bettini catches attackers on Poggio
   
Approaching the Via Roma, with about 400m to go, the Fasso Bortolo team had two men on the front with Petacchi in an ideal third position. Petacchi hit the front and looked a sure bet to win. However Erik Zabel (T Mobile Team) came past 150m from the line. Zabel though made the mistake of celebrating too early and was beaten by Freire in a photo finish.
   
Sprint for finish on Via Roma Oscar Freire celebrates
   
Photos courtesy Cor Vos 2004 unless otherwise stated
   
1. Oscar Freire (Spa) in 7h11'23" 40.892 km/h
2. Erik Zabel (Ger) s.t.
3. Stuart O'Grady (Aus) s.t.
4. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) s.t.
5. Max Van Heeswijk (Hol) s.t.
6. Igor Astarloa (Spa) s.t.
7. Romans Vainsteins (Let) s.t.
8. Paolo Bettini (Ita) s.t.
9. Miguel Martin Perdiguero (Spa) s.t.
10. Peter Van Petegem (Bel) s.t.
11. Erik Dekker (Hol) s.t.
12. Mirko Celestino (Ita) s.t.
13. George Hincapie (USA) s.t.
14. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) s.t.
15. Josu Silloniz Aresti (Spa) s.t