'I'd never pushed so hard!' - Paolo Bettini remembers historic 2003 Milan - San-Remo victory
Former Deceuninck - Quick-Step rider Paolo Bettini says he had "never pushed so hard" as on the Poggio descent as the team won a historic first Monument victory at the Milan - San-Remo in 2003.
The 2020 edition of the race was due to have begun on Saturday, but like so much of the racing calendar it was postponed due to the global coronavirus outbreak.
The race, which departs from the plains of Lombardy and heads out to the Ligurian coast, was first staged in 1907 and is a cherished date in the racing calendar.
Bettini's team - which in 2003 was known as Davitamon - competed in the race for the first time that year shortly after being founded, and the 45-year-old has described a "huge outpouring of emotion" when the team crossed the line for their first ever victory.
“The night before the race, I couldn’t sleep," he said. "So I woke up and began to get dressed with my race jersey and shorts, waking up my roommate Luca [Paolini] . He asked me what I was doing, to which I replied that I was checking how I would look in the pictures on Saturday.
" After I was brought back following my early attack, I thought that my day was over, but Luca told me we had worked too hard for this to give up, so after a brief chat, we decided to attack on the Poggio. "
"When the climb began, we were last in a group of some 50-odd riders, but with each switchback we gained ten places, and in the final part we were in the right position to attack, which we did.
"We had a gap of six seconds at the top and then we just risked everything on the downhill. I don’t remember ever pushing so hard on a descent! When I crossed the line, there was a huge outpouring of emotion, because it was a race Mapei had never won. To take the team’s first Monument there in our first year of existence was very special.”
Bettini's teammate Filippo Pozzato was part of a strong leading group that formed and opened a ten-second margin over the peloton on the race's final stretch.
It began a fierce chase once they hit the bottom of the Poggio, and over the final two kilometers the sprinters accelerated into a full-pelt dash for the line.
"Just like Paolo, during the days prior to the race, I was confident and had a special feeling about it," said Pozzato. "At the start, I was the team’s third option, behind Tom and Paolo, but during the race I felt really good and grew in confidence. When Ballan attacked, I responded to that move.
" "I was on my limit on the Poggio, but dug deep and that allowed me to be in the front with one kilometer to go. Looking back, I really think the key was the Poggio, that’s where I won the race."
"Tom finished fourth on that day and his result shows our incredible team spirit, because he could have easily been on the podium if he’d kept sprinting, but he preferred to sit up and celebrate my win, that’s how happy he was about the final outcome.”