Bettini names Gilbert and Hushovd as favourites for Milan-Sanremo
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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bettini names Gilbert and Hushovd as favourites for Milan-Sanremo

by Conal Andrews at 8:05 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Milan-Sanremo
Italian tips Belgian and Norwegian for Classic

Paolo BettiniItalian national coach Paolo Bettini might be expected to tip one of his countrymen for victory in today’s Milan-Sanremo, but instead he believes that a rider from outside the country is most likely to win. The double world road race champion animated the race when he last rode it in 2008, and is fully aware of the peculiarities and demand of the course. He’s watched the contenders this month and has come up with two who he feels are most likely to be in with a chance of victory.

“I think obviously there are more candidates to victory, but if I have to name favorites, those that seem ahead of the others at the moment, I’d select Gilbert and Hushovd. Philippe Gilbert for the attacks at the end of the race and Thor Hushovd for the sprint, especially as it is always a difficult sprint,” he told

Gilbert has clocked up three wins thus far this season, taking a stage of the Volta ao Algarve, winning the Montepaschi Strade Bianche and then grabbing stage five in Tirreno-Adriatico with a superb final sprint. Hushovd is yet to win this year, but he showed his strength in leading out Garmin-Cervélo team-mate Tyler Farrar in Tirreno. That leadout earned Farrar victory on stage two, but was so strong the following day that he momentarily dropped the American in the run-up to the sprint.

Gilbert’s explosive strength means that many expect him to put in a strong attack on the Poggio, then try to hold on to the line. He has said that his best chance of victory will be if there is a tailwind; one is forecast today, but it depends on the precise direction of it in the finale, how strong it is, and also how much of a gap he can open over the others. Recent editions of the race have seen the finish situated a full three kilometres from the end of the decent of the Poggio, and so it will take a big, big effort to stay clear.

However Bettini believes that there is more than one way to win the race. The solo surge is not how he thinks things would play out. “Philippe has the legs to make a big attack. Only one, but very strong,” he said. “I think, with today’s cycling when all riders are very well prepared physically, it is difficult for one man to make the difference on the Poggio and be alone at the finish.

“But Philippe doesn’t need to aim for a solo win in Sanremo. His attack could bring several strong men such as Scarponi, Pozzato and one or two others out of the front of the race. I think with four or five riders in the breakaway on the Poggio, they would be able to go until the end. Then Philippe would be the strongest of those in the sprint…especially after 290 kilometres of a nervous race.

If he doesn’t succeed in breaking the elastic, Bettini believes that world champion Hushovd will then have his chance to shine.

“If it's a peloton that is together at the finish of the Primavera, it is certainly a sprinter who will win but not just any one,” he explained. “It needs to be a complete rider, and one who is powerful after 290 km. A sprinter who will not suffer too much in the climbs that define the finale and, clearly on the Poggio, which is basically just a few minutes from the finish.

"He will need to have recovered well from this violent effort as the Poggio is climbed very quickly. Hushovd, in my opinion, fits those requirements perfectly this year.”

Indeed Hushovd showed those characteristics when winning last year’s worlds in Geelong. He’s no longer regarded as the fastest sprinter in stage races, but his ability to gallop after a long, tough race is obvious and could pay off in a few hours’ time.



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