If you haven't already guessed it, I love bike racing. And I love professional bike racing most. It features the best riders in the best races (apologies to Astana and Rock Racing) and it is cool. These pros are the cream of the crop, top of the heap, A-No. 1. They are the strongest, fastest and best bike handlers on the planet. It is incredibly inspiring and interesting to see the pros on the job.
Last Saturday in Italy, the skills, dedication and drive of the pros was abundantly evident at this season's first classic: the umpteenth running of Milan-San Remo, or La Primavera as it is known to the tifosi (Italian for 'rabid fan'). I am still trying to understand why the first big race of the year is also the longest. At 185 miles, that's seven-plus hours in the saddle for the best of the best -- which is a long time even at 25-plus mph average.
It was nice to see one of my 'hoodmates from Boulder, Will Frischkorn of the Slipstream/Chipotle team, off the front for almost 150 miles. Luckily, he had several other riders to share the pace and though their breakaway was reeled in on the penultimate climb, the Cipressa, they got a lot of TV time for their respective sponsors and that is what is about.
We got to see two-time world champion Paolo Bettini, who was just recently racing in the Amgen Tour of California, make a strong move on the Cipressa that seemed to contain enough horsepower to make it the final 10 miles to the finish. But the peloton still thought they had a chance as well and Bettini and company were caught just before the final climb, the Poggio.
If you want to impress somebody with your knowledge of European cycling, the Poggio is pronounced "pocho." It is not that long (1.5 miles) and not that steep (4-5 percent), but when you have ridden 180 miles and you are smoking up the Poggio in your big chainring, nobody is going to say it's easy. More often than not, everybody who matters seems to make it over the climb and down the kamikaze descent so that it is a bunch sprint at the finish. Not this year. Everybody's favorite Swiss rider, Fabian Cancellara, ignited his jets and left the field in his wake to win his second classic (the first being Paris-Roubaix in 2006) of his career.
I love it when a superhuman individual effort foils the sprinters. Not to knock the fast finishers, those guy have an interesting mix of speed, cunning and fearless abandon like nobody else, but there is something about one guy holding off the bunch. Maybe it goes back to the old western movies where one settler holds off a whole pack of charging Indians. What it all adds up to is that the pro racing season is full on. No more training camps, no more lollygagging. It's time to eat lunch or be lunch. Bravo Fabian!