“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”
Il Gattopardo, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Unlike the riders who gradually get more and more tired, those of us viewing the race on TV get more and more energised as the finish line approaches. There’s now talk of changing the route. This is normal.
I wrote a blog piece for cyclingnews the other day saying the classics are always changing. Milan-Sanremo is a fine example as the organisers revolutionised the race with the Poggio in 1960 after several Flemish sprinters “stole” the race from Italians. Since then the organisers have added the Cipressa and as recently as 2008, Le Manie. A decade ago we had the Bric Berton instead of the Turchino Pass. The finish line keeps moving. It has been within sight of the bottom of the Poggio, its most famous finish was the Via Roma, Sanremo’s prime thoroughfare. Today it finishes on the Lungomare, the seaside promenade. The route is constantly changing but the race remains great.
As much as the route has changed, I can’t see many arguments to change it now. In 2008 Fabian Cancellara impersonated a Ducati motorbike with a late attack after Poggio. In 2009 Heinrich Haussler’s Ferrari acceleration was thrilling and the way Mark Cavendish got him on the finish line was superb drama. 2010 saw Oscar Freire win, less exciting perhaps. But 2011 overcompensated with a thrilling race from Le Manie as the race split apart and breakaways formed and reformed and the result was uncertain until Matthew Goss got the better of Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert.
Talk is now focussing on a change to the Cipressa. Cipressa is a misleading name since the climb really rises to the village of Costarainera… then levels on the ridge to the village of Cipressa for the descent. Either way, there is a new road up the hill, named appropriately the Strada Nova. Instead of starting from the town of San Lorenzo Al Mare, it begins futher along the coats from Piani Paorelli. The current Cipressa is 5km long at 4.8% and the “new” climb would be 3.5km to reach the same altitude, making it 7%. This would change everything since the Cipressa is currently a fast climb where being on the right wheel counts, a sprinter can benefit from drafting as the speeds are so high. Change to a climb that averages an Alpine 7% that is also irregular in gradient and several sprinters will be in trouble.
In my preview of the Poggio last week I mentioned the “Super Poggio”. At the top of the Poggio instead of turning left to descend, you can turn right and start an actual mountain pass, the Passo Ghimbegna. Once over the top you could loop back to Sanremo. But this would add to the distance – the climb is 18km – and change the race completely.
The sprinters’ classic
Race organisers RCS have a sister race, Il Lombardia and this caters for climbers. Sanremo is the only monument where sprinters can have a say, there’s nothing wrong in that. Especially as the climbs mean other riders have to try so hard to get an advantage. As listed above in recent years we’ve had a good balance of attacks winning and sprint finishes. What is good is that the possibility of a sprint finish is never certain, it is only until after the Poggio that we know what might happen. In other words audiences must tune in to find out what will happen.
An Italian win?
I suspect the organisers would like an Italian winner. Bias? You bet and this is normal, after all this is why the Poggio was included half a century ago. The irony though is that Italy has some very promising sprinters with Elia Viviani and Andrea Guardini. What chance the organisers talk about scrapping the Poggio if Guardini is dropped next year?
The race starts in Milan and finishes in Sanremo but everything else can change. Only you have to wonder why there is talk of modifying the route, the finish is thrilling, high TV drama where you rarely know the winner until the finish line is in sight. Surely the finish of the race is near perfect?