Sprinters favored in Milan-San Remo classic

The Milan-San Remo classic celebrates its 100th anniversary Saturday and sprinters are again expected to dominate the one-day race.

Former winners Oscar Freire, Alessandro Petacchi, Filippo Pozzato and Erik Zabel will be challenged by Tom Boonen, Robbie McEwen and Stuart O'Grady in the 294-kilometer (183-mile) race.

The first Milan-San Remo was held in 1907, although this is only the 98th edition.

Freire, the three-time world champion from Spain, has already compiled four victories this season.

"Winning the world championships for the fourth time is my top goal for 2007," Freire was quoted as saying in Friday's Gazzetta dello Sport. "But winning another San Remo comes immediately next. It's the world championship of the spring."

Freire has finished in the top 10 for the last five years in this race, and won in 2004.

No Italian has won the Milan-San Remo twice since Loretto Petrucci in 1952-53. Defending champion Pozzato and 2005 winner Petacchi are the best bets to end that streak.

Pozzato won two single-day races in France and Belgium earlier this year.

"I'm entering in better form than I could have hoped for," Pozzato said.

Petacchi has six victories this season but went winless in his last race, the weeklong Tirreno-Adriatico.

"The sprint in San Remo will be a different story," Petacchi predicted.

Petacchi has the added comfort of four-time winner Zabel being a teammate on his Milram squad.

Paolo Bettini, the 2003 champion, is the third Italian aiming for a second victory in San Remo. However, the Tuscan rider has a broken rib and a muscle problem, and said he will race mainly to honor the rainbow jersey of world champion that he is wearing this season.

Two Australians are in form. Robbie McEwen is coming off a strong performance in the Tirreno-Adriatico, where he won the opening stage, while Stuart O'Grady finished second in the final stage of the warmup event.

Boonen, the Belgian who won the world championships in 2005, has shown steady progression in San Remo, finishing eighth in 2005 and fourth last year.

"Compared to last year at this point I'm in better condition," Boonen said.

While the race is almost always decided by a sprint finish, there are some riders who will try to break away over one of the final two short climbs - the Cipressa and Poggio hills, reports AP.

Riccardo Ricco, winner of two consecutive stages in the Tirreno-Adriatico, has declared he will attempt a late breakaway.

Defending Giro d'Italia champion Ivan Basso has not entered due to a wrist injury.

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