The Sanremo Paradox

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Michał Kwiatkowski attacks on the Poggio as the Tinkoff team behind chases to aide their leader Peter Sagan, the pre-race pick. Kwiatkowski’s got a gap and he’s a mean descender so he’s in with a chance. If you’ve been watching on TV this is a moment of almost unbearable tension.

Milan-Sanremo is the longest race on the pro calendar yet it’s so often dependent on events in the last five minutes.

Poggio 2012

In the last 20 years the earliest place the winning move has happened… is on the Poggio with 7.3km to go when Vincenzo Nibali’s attack was tracked by Simon Gerrans who won the sprint in 2012. Here’s a chart depicting where the winning move was formed for the last 20 years:

In the other editions there have been “sprint finishes” out of select group rather than a giant bunch. We had a few late moves, whether Fabian Cancellara’s attack with 2km to go in 2008; or in the abbreviated 2013 edition won by Gerald Ciolek which saw the seven rider group form with 5km to go during the descent of the Poggio. So here we have the paradox of the longest race where the winning move is launched within the shortest distance to the finish.

Claudio Chiappucci

We have to go back to 1996 to find a winner, Gabriele Colombo, who went clear on the Cipressa. For any long range breaks we go back to 1991 when Claudio Chiappucci (pictured) won the race after joining an attack that went clear on the Turchino pass with 140km to go.

It’s a contrast to other classics. Last year Peter Sagan’s the winning move in the Tour of Flanders went with 32km to go. Mathew Hayman went in the morning breakaway in Paris-Roubaix. Esteban Chaves went on the rampage with 35km remaining to win the Tour of Lombardy. That’s just 2016.

Not that the rest of the race is empty, it’s so long that every pedal stroke counts. The distance, to mangle metaphors, levels the playing field. It’s why we can have sprinters, classics specialists and grand tour contenders all in the action over the Poggio, a rarity that even the Strade Bianche can’t deliver. The long distance means that the Poggio, barely a fourth category climb, takes on a great significance as fatigue has set in. Easy enough for a sprinter in top shape to pass, hard enough for a punchy rider or even a grand tour specialist to give it a go. Look at the list of previous winners and it’s big on quality, the distance and the Poggio conspire to prevent dud winners.

There’s plenty of action before the Poggio too. Many moves go on the Cipressa and time after time it looks like there’s a move floating away on the Via Aurelia coastal road between the Cipressa and Poggio as teams look at each other to take up the chase. If the stats say the Poggio picks the winner it never feels this certain as moves threaten to take the win and it’s this uncertainty that makes it a gripping watch.

The Masterchef method
If the race comes down to the final five minutes why watch the hours of live coverage? It’s worth asking and if the whole season was like this then the sport wouldn’t exist. But the slow burn approach leading to a cliffhanger is what TV is all about. The prime time slots are full of reality shows deploying similar production techniques to a quality bike race. People cook dishes, sell the contents of storage lockers, renovate homes and perform tasks on tropical islands. Now you could save yourself the bother of watching an inane 40 minutes of someone rustling up a soufflé or watching the paint dry during a home renovation by watching the last two minutes to see who won the episode but of course the drama is in the production. The filming, editing and narration are deliberately employed to create tension using clever psychological hooks before the “reveal” moment at the end of the show where the winner emerges. The race to Sanremo is the same, the analysis of the early breakaway, the time gap on the Turchino pass, the rising stress as riders begin to get dropped on the Capo Berta, the crashes and then, instead of a panel of judges, the Cipressa and Poggio are the selectors. Only it’s real and live.

Conclusion
Milan-Sanremo is longest race of the year and paradoxically the least suited to long range breakaways. If you’re pressed for time it’s probably the one classic you can catch late since almost all the decisive action comes in the final kilometres… or even metres. Yet there’s something rewarding about watching the race unfold and feeling the tension rise as the race approaches the Poggio and then snakes down into Sanremo.

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The Inner Ring March 14, 2017 at 8:11 pm

A note to say this is a rework of an old piece, now updated with 20 years of stats instead of 10, plus some smaller tweaks. I needed to redo the stats for this Friday’s Milan-Sanremo race preview and hopefully the text is a reminder of how exceptional this race is for loyal readers and newcomers alike.

Joe Saroni March 14, 2017 at 8:38 pm

It’s like a great football match, 0-0 in overtime to finish with a last minute goal and a final score of 1-0.
What is remembered is the excitement at the end and the feeling of the slow build up of tension.
I love it!

Lowell March 14, 2017 at 8:40 pm

An excellent update, thank you! So many talented riders, but as we saw last year, there’s a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time. Here’s hoping Sagan doesn’t get squished in like last year.

Ecky Thump March 14, 2017 at 9:24 pm

The last three years’ editions have had a sprint won from final groups of 31,26, and 25 riders respectively.
Looking at the weather and starting list, you must conclude a similar tale unwinding this year too.

The Inner Ring March 14, 2017 at 10:01 pm

Hard to see past Gaviria and Sagan but as ever there’s a long list of contenders and pretenders behind them and how we get from 200 riders to about 30 is telling, it’s a race where one mistake is often ruinous, every pedal stroke counts.

Larrick March 15, 2017 at 1:11 am

Though not last year as the picture of G in the gutter shows as FDJ untangle themselves. 😉

Richard S March 15, 2017 at 10:13 am

Interesting that you say its hard to look past Sagan and Gaviria, yet neither has won it (granted Gaviria has only tried once). Sagan has been the favourite for this race every year since about 2012 yet something seems to prevent him from winning it. You’ve said yourself in previous posts that Sagan has a fairly inefficient style, quite upright and a bit ‘pigeon toed’. Maybe this counts against him over the thick end of 300km. Plus he usually has a fairly weak team. Maybe its worth placing the riders who have actually won this race before – Degenkolb, Demare and Kristoff most obviously – a rung above Sagan on the favourites list? Also when you consider Matthews and Swift have been knocking on the door here over the last couple of years, and Colbrelli has been developing nicely in these kind of races, as well as ‘hardmen’ like Roelandts and Stannard, it becomes even harder to call anyone an outright favourite. The comparatively long list of contenders, the scenery, the tension and probably the fact that is the first big race of the year always make it a highlight for me. I’d love to see an attack from a puncheur on the Poggio stick this year. Someone like Stybar, Kwiatkowski, Gilbert or maybe Alaphilippe.

Phylis March 14, 2017 at 9:34 pm

I had the great fortune to ride the San Remo tunnel this year, an entire history of legends in banners and painted along the tarmac, and the inevitable “sprint finish” by random solo riders on tourers, mtbs, tt bikes to the end of the tunnel….a fun place to visit

The Inner Ring March 14, 2017 at 9:51 pm

It’s a scenic ride but hard sometimes, especially weekends, for road riders as it’s successful and packed with locals, kids, people on skates etc. A nice way to avoid the road. Readers might remember the opening stage of the 2o15 Giro where the team time trial course was run on this cycle path.

Logan March 14, 2017 at 9:47 pm

I love this race, the suspension and build up is what makes it as you have said. Before they switched it back to Saturday it used to be a tough ask here in Australia, but now staying up until 3amn on a Sunday isn’t so bad.

Should be a great race with so many strong riders in the mix, hard to pick between them all.

Ablindeye March 14, 2017 at 9:48 pm

Ahh wonderful, wonderful spring. Great updated teaser, thanks. Perhaps Italy will get it’s first win in a decade with Crockett Colbrelli going well.

The Inner Ring March 14, 2017 at 9:56 pm

If there was a place for “Crockett” then surely it’d be Sanremo with its sea front and palm trees? Although Colbrelli’s win in Amilly last week on a freezing cold day suggests naming him after a Miami Vice character may not be so deterministic.

Ablindeye March 14, 2017 at 10:26 pm

Haha, indeed. I think the harder the better to blunt others legs on that form, though the weather doesn’t look like it will provide an added dimension.

Netserk March 14, 2017 at 10:08 pm

Wouldn’t it be fairer to have Pozzato’s win as from Poggio when he followed Ballan’s attack?

The Inner Ring March 14, 2017 at 10:17 pm

You’re right, it was with 5.7km to go. Consider the chart amended to 6km, thanks.

Augie March March 14, 2017 at 10:12 pm

The uniquely wide range of riders who can win here is summed up in that photo of the 2012 final move. Where else would a GT leader, Nibali, a classics hardman/TT specialist, Cancellara and a punchy sprinter type, Gerrans, all be in contention for the result? Hopefully this year’s addition is decided by the riders’ legs alone rather than crashes.

BC March 14, 2017 at 10:33 pm

Yet another epic insight, thank you. The one thing that might have been added is the often cold and wet weather encountered in MSM. The inclement weather often adds to the demands of distance on the legs.

One always imagines that the Italian Riviera at this time of year is Spring like. Recent events have proven otherwise.

Hammarling March 14, 2017 at 11:23 pm

Could you imagine trying to pitch this as a new event?
“Yeah, we’re gonna send the riders almost 300km from Milan. Mostly flat and just tack a couple of short climbs at the end.”
“Who’s gonna watch 300km on TV when it will probably end in a sprint?”
“Good point. Next idea then.”
Sometimes a route makes a race. Sometimes riders make a race. And very rarely we get both. And we get a San Remo, a true monument of a race. Even if it’s a mass sprint it feels like so much more. If i could make one change, i would say no thanks.

Seb March 14, 2017 at 11:37 pm

Sanremo or San Remo? Never know which to label it as. The signs on the road and old railway station are ‘San Remo’, yet the bike race and rally are ‘Sanremo’. Any insights!?

The Inner Ring March 14, 2017 at 11:43 pm

Unless there’s an old one, the road signs all say “Sanremo” but the railway station says “San Remo”. It’s officially Sanremo these days, the story is that San Remo has connotations to Mussolini and the fascist era so the town’s authorities issued a decree ordering Sanremo.

Seb March 15, 2017 at 12:08 am

Fascinating, thanks!

Anonymous March 15, 2017 at 11:45 am

How on earth do you know that? Your knowledge is truly eclectic!

STS March 15, 2017 at 12:04 am

Great piece as usual, thanks INRNG. But if I remember correctly this is the first time that reading one of your articles made me laugh in front of my computer. The paragraph about the TV shows you compare that race to made me figure the unthinkable and the image that came up was fun: “Oh, he’s also an expert in TV shows. His days must have at least 36 hours if he also has a somewhat regular job”. 😉 .

spicelab March 15, 2017 at 12:13 am

MSR has always felt like some kind of inside joke to me.

Intellectually I accept all the arguments for why it is a great race, but I just can’t warm to it. Even in a comparison of highlight reels, it feels anaemic compared with most other races.

Anyway, each to their own.

brent March 15, 2017 at 2:11 am

If this race was not an established race in Italy or European (say in Australia or middle east) even with the same field most posters here would say can’t wait until the “REAL” racing starts in Belgium. Sometimes the way you see a race is the way you want to see it. I have watched this race as often as I can the last few years and really its a bit like Amstel gold.
The entire race is about waiting for the final climb. Yes people can win it from further out but it would just be a fluke brought on by conditions or team tactics. All the main players are hiding and waiting for the last hill. If it was not for the history this race would be a complete bore except for 10 minutes.
As you said the longest race with the shortest star action. If the group is big enough over the top even the decent is just a procession to the finish sprint even if they are going fast down.

Foley March 15, 2017 at 3:08 am

“Australia, Middle East…if it was not for the history…” That pretty well covers it. This is not the space to ask whether springtime itself comes earlier than it used to.

Foley March 15, 2017 at 3:25 am

I should second Inrng in saying that the fact the race is so “open” to different types of winners has a pretty deep appeal.

“Easy enough for a sprinter in top shape to pass, hard enough for a punchy rider or even a grand tour specialist to give it a go. Look at the list of previous winners and it’s big on quality, the distance and the Poggio conspire to prevent dud winners.”

Anonymous March 15, 2017 at 9:52 am

But the history is a part of it. I don’t even understand, how anyone can negate that. Cycling isn’t only about “stars” and “action”, even of cyclingnews and others like to create this picture. If that is what you seek, you clearly didn’t make a very good choice with cycling. The fact, that a race exists 100 years, how often this outcome happened or that way was how it supposed to go down and then it didn’t, is part of the fascination, of the talking points. Who has won this race 5 years ago, 20 years ago, does matter, just as the prestige of the race determines how the race is ridden. Nobody in his right mind would ride the tdu like MSR or would train for it (exception of course: locals, because to them it means something). Because MSR has a place in cycling history, in the cycling universe. That place can’t be bought, it is earned. With the course or the history. In every news outlet you could read at the end of this february, how the riders said, that now the serious racing begins. They don’t say that to hurt anyone, they say that, because it is the truth. You can see it, when the teams get presented, you see it in the way they race, you see it in their eyes, when they cross the finish line: They joy and satisfaction of a good race or the hurt and dissapointment, if a chance was unused or if a plan has gone up in smoke. This is serious. Something they want, not something they do, because riding races is what they do for a living.

To discount history or tradition or perspective is a very strange and dishonest thing to do. All around the world, through all our time, the past determined the future, determined how we see and weigh the present and the future. That is it’s very nature. So the desire to negate this….strange. One could almost think this desire shows in truth a deep dissatisfaction with cycling. I often see this: people who say they are cycling fans, but in truth are totally dissatisfied by the nature of pro cycling. And I never understand it:If I would be in truth bothered by the very nature of professional cycling, I know I would look for something else, that wouldn’t annoy me, instead of finding always ways to denigrate that, which in truth annoys me (not, that I want to say this is necessarily the case with you. Just this way to argument reminds me of this).

Anonymous March 15, 2017 at 10:23 am

To make understood better, what I mean: I just have read, what Quentin Jauregi seems to have said, about MSR: “It is a monument, seven hours in the saddle and only champions have the chance in the final”. That sums everything up nicely, that I tried to say above. I myself have other favourite races, MSR isn’t my most loved race, but I see it’s importance and the place it has earned itself in the cycling universe. And I respect and enjoy it for what it is and don’t expect it to be something, it will never be and mustn’t be.

gabriele March 15, 2017 at 10:52 am

+1
Cycling is among the sports for which history matters the most. Obviously, this might change, people are trying to change it – and we’ll be left mourning a huge loss in the nature of the sport itself, in case they should succeed.

Anonymous March 15, 2017 at 11:58 am

Indeed.

There is a huge difference between changing, evolving something, while respecting it for itself or changing, evolving it for one’s own plans or desire:
• the first is natural and will grow things for everybody (because it’s focus is on everyone being a winner or better: nobody to be a loser)
• the second is unnatural, forced upon something/someone and always does damage in the long run (that is in it’s nature, because it’s focus is on only one winning, namely the force behind the change, which means:To be the big winner, it is necessary, that everybody else will be the loser). Plus the latter, because it doesn’t respect the thing it wants to change, often brings unintented results.

An example: If you create unrest, pressure and dissent among race organisers, because you force them to pay your price, follow your rules, force them to say publically, that you are so cool and the future, because you hold a certain amount of power with commandeering a certain amount of teams, you will disturb the balance. One result will probably be that smaller races will be afraid and will be much more ready to connect with a big race organiser, to be safe. Or they give up, because they are out of their depths or can’t identify themselves with this any longer.

So you tried to divide to conquer, but in the end you succeed only in destroying the culture, the diversity, as the independents cease to exist and instead of making the powerful less powerful, they will have become more powerful (including you yourself, because you pretend, that you hate the powerful and are for the small people and equality, but in reality you fool (almost) nobody: you just hate, that you are not the most powerful yourself. I just realised, that this sounds like I write about trump, which is, because it is the same type of person, but he isn’t the one I had in mind) and all are losers of this scenario. An unintented, but very easy to predict result.

My only hope is, that we get a new president, who finally defends cycling. Someone, who is passionate about it. Someone who clearly says: Till here and not one step further. It is, what we need. Someone who has respect for cycling and is on it’s side.

J Evans March 16, 2017 at 11:17 am

I agree: I’d say that this is the most important issue in cycling today – and our current president is on the wrong side.

Larry T March 15, 2017 at 1:47 pm

+1 Inrng summed it up with “…there’s something rewarding about watching the race unfold and feeling the tension rise as the race approaches the Poggio and then snakes down into Sanremo.” My only wish is they’d televise MORE as we seem to get only recorded snippets of the race until they hit the Riviera. Sadly they no longer use the iconic tunnel atop the Turchino. Mauro Vegni and Co. should keep the tradition and route the course through it instead of the wide, modern tunnel. And local cycling groups should lobby for a “pista ciclabile” through it the other 364 days each year. Otherwise the bust of Girardengo will get very lonely up there!

will59 March 15, 2017 at 3:53 pm

If you take away the history the Open Championship at St. Andrews is just another golf tournament on a barren tract of land. The history is everything. The possibility of joining such a legendary list of winners is all that is needed to make it special.

Joe K. March 15, 2017 at 2:49 am

Since MSR is a Monument, the will to win it will be fierce, and, barring any mishap or controversial act, i.e., Demare’s alleged tow up the Poggio in last year’s edition, the outcome–as well as the running of it–should be satisfying and wholly entertaining for any true fan of the sport. And, yes, . . . , let the “real” racing begin! (It had to be said.)

Larry T March 16, 2017 at 1:00 am

Better watch it Joe K. – you’ll be called a curmudgeon (or worse) by some on here 🙂

Paul webb March 15, 2017 at 9:34 am

Love the image of Chiappucci – how chuffed does he look? and after a 140k break

Richard S March 15, 2017 at 10:21 am

He was probably thinking ‘Bloody hell, I’ll have to get Dr Ferrari a pint after this’. Italy’s domination of the classics, and to some extent cycling in general, between about 1989 and 1999 now looks so obvious. I was watching a re run of Liege-Bastogne-Liege (or maybe Flanders) from circa 1997 on Youtube a bit back and apart from Sorensen (or was it Jalabert?) all the other riders in the lead group of about 10 were Italian!

The Inner Ring March 15, 2017 at 10:27 am

It’s gone from farce to tragedy now. Recently La Gazzetta Dello Sport has been running articles and editorials about the systemic problems in Italian cycling, whether the lack of World Tour teams or the lack of performance with Nibali and Aru’s poor rides in Tirreno-Adriatico being dissected (Aru ill, Nibali 2kg over his racing weight) with the underlying message of “please be ready for the Giro” because the race needs some local riders. But this isn’t just the sport’s fault, as explored on here before the country has been recession and struggling so money is hard to come by. All the gloom in La Gazzetta will change in a flash if the likes of Elia Viviani or Sonny Colbrelli win on Saturday of course.

gabriele March 15, 2017 at 11:57 am

Richard S, I partly share your point, but we should be very careful with commonplace assumptions.

Doping techniques had rapidly spread throughout the whole peloton by the very first years of the 90s (do really I need to list examples?).

In the decade you name, Italians won Flanders three times, right as in the following decade (when the big doping rings had moved elsewhere, including the *best* Italian doctors who hadn’t already retired: feel assured, in *that* decade,the 2000s, the best medicine men weren’t going to support lesser team or athletes, that is, most of the Italian ones, which, if anything, were using “second quality” doping and doctors).

Besides, I’d dare to say that I’m pretty much 100% sure that Bugno, Argentin or Bartoli would have won those races in a doping-free parallel universe, too: Magni won three Flanders in a row from 1949 on, no EPO helped him to do so.

Exactly the same is true for Liège, with the difference that Italians had already started winning it in the previous decade, besides going on with the same winning ratio in the 2000s, too: paradoxically, the less classy winner in 30 years or so was Contini in 1982… despite his later problems with testosterone, I doubt that you can imagine him being on heavy blood doping already.

Frankly, if you ever saw them racing, do you really consider Bartoli or Argentin’s victory “less natural” than De Wolf’s (one of the craziest I’ve ever seen), Sorensen, Berzin, Gianetti, Richard… that is, those who were winning Liège from 1992 to 1996?
Do you know anything about Museeuw and Van Petegem and Vandenbroucke? Would you ever say that it was a great Belgian generation of Flanders riders because their doping superiority? I really don’t think so.

I might agree about the Massi, the Colombo, the Furlan, the Bottaro, but, at the end of the day, they were barely podiuming in the Belgian races you named… were they that different in quality from Bernard, Den Bakker, Wegmuller, Maassen, Moncassin? Lesser riders always had been able to podium even in greater races.

Doping determinism, as always, makes little sense. If anything, doping tends to be a symptom or a consequence of something else, other factors who normally have a way greater impact on races and results, be them a huge political protection and support (Armstrong’s case) or a national investment in sport, an effective federation, strong sponsors, organised teams that kind of things (and that was Italy’s case in the 90s).

Moser was experimenting (until then, legally!) with blood doping for his hour record in 1984. The second half of the 80s was one the direst periods for Italian cycling, even if those were the only years where you could imagine some sort of technological advantage… It’s never about technology alone, it’s more about how it gets transferred and implemented.

And when doping is concerned, it tends to be way more about team than about nations (Gewiss were team doping, sure, as was PDM… in 1988! – it’s not clear if they were doing EPO, for sure they were doing transfusions, you can ask Lance if the latter are much less effective! Rabobank was team doping, TVM was team doping, Festina was team doping and so on, and on, and on… and these were the team fighting against “the Italians” in the 90s in the Belgian races).

“So obvious” so many times ends up meaning “so gross and simplistic”.
Italian “sport science” (!) has got a very significant part of the historical responsibility for the collective tragedy of extreme doping in the 90s, that is, creating the technology.
Several Italian teams have the responsibility of embracing team doping very soon – among many teams from other countries.
But another very significant part of that responsibility, even more significant IMHO, lies within the UCI who failed to policy that situation. They didn’t even try to be more precise. They probably fostered it, if we want to be imaginative.

However, as it often happens with doping, the effect of mere doping on “national distribution of results” is probably way inferior to what most people suppose, mainly because race results are the by-product of a huge amount of factors, both athletic ones (talented riders), organisational ones (a good federation), economic ones (sponsors funding overall strong teams) and so on; doping might be related to many of them (sponsor paying for team doping and so on), but “obvious” is reallt the less adequate word.

I’ll finish with another little provocation: let’s say that beside being a great doper Ferrari was a great trainer – probably true, since most “supposedly clean” teams are still copying a lot of his methods – and Conconi a great sport scientist (quite sure, indeed): that would make a difference when compared to other team dopers… but *that* difference would be “legal” 😉

Richard S March 15, 2017 at 12:14 pm

I wasn’t saying Italy were the only ones at it, obviously everyone was, including Sorensen and Jalabert that I named there pretty much at random. I probably extended my timeframe a little long but in my opinion (and that’s all it is, I have nothing to back it up other than my own casual observations) there was a period around the turn of the 80s/90s when you had people like Bugno, Fondriest and Argentin winning classics (I include the World Championships as a 6th monument) and top 5ing (if that’s a term) in Grand Tours, as well as Chiappucci doing crazy things like winning mountain stages of the Tour in lone all day breakaways and winning Sanremo from the outskirts of Milan (I exaggerate) that all looks a bit dubious when you consider what we now know about the activities of Ferrari and Conconni at about the same time (I also consider Mosers record in the Giro post 84 a bit dodgy, as well as Roche’s 1987 extravaganza). But then around the same time you had Sean Kelly, Greg Lemond and others winning/contending classics and grand tours, cycling was different then. I have nothing against Italy or Italians, its my favourite place to visit and Bartoli is probably my favourite cyclist of all time even though he was no doubt a doper (though Virenque would run him close!).

gabriele March 15, 2017 at 1:52 pm

No worries, I already got that it wasn’t at all a “racial thing”, so to say 🙂

I just wanted to challenge a commonplace opinion – broadly shared among Italian fans, too, feel assured! – which I nevertheless consider too simplistic: it has got some serious foundations, no doubt (just look at those Gewiss guys! And, jokes apart, the Ferrara group played an important role in developing the technology to its best).

Yet, I’m afraid that such opinion ends up eclipsing much more than what it sheds light on.

The PDM case says a lot, I think (long term systematic team doping, blood doping included, and admittedly using EPO since *at least* 1989: funny as their best results supposedly came “before EPO”, someway a classic).

Taking doping as a strong explaining factor from a national POV (and not only that) just doesn’t work.
It’s an ingredient more in the mix, but it might help more in understanding fast-passing “meteors” or “exploits” or “mutations”, if anything, than broad phenomena (but, again: haven’t we always had “shooting stars” in cycling, well before heavy blood doping?).

Moser at the Giro post 1984? But was that really so different from what he was doing at the end of the 70s, well before Conconi? Placing 2nd the same year he was winning the Flèche and the Worlds (1977), or again after winning Gent and Roubaix (1979)? The guy was getting a 7th place at the 1975 TdF (his only one) when he was 24, during the *previous era* of cycling, in a strong climbers’ edition. He’d have had a stronger record in France (he was even better fit for the Tour than for the Giro), if it wasn’t for the excessive importance which strong national sponsors gave to the Giro, then.

And I could go on… it’s hard to say if the shift which Italian cyclists lived from 1990-1991 onward really depended on *special* – although not exclusive – access to doping, or on the surfacing of a generation which went on proving more than decent skills even when blood doping technology became absolutely widespread beyond any doubt.

Last but not least, we should take into account that foreign teams were practicing blood team doping as well (see above), just as foreign riders were benefitting from it within Italian teams (as you noted, Giovanni Grazzi, from the “Ferrara school”, was already working as a doctor for Roche’s Carrera in 1987, even if the investigation which officially proved Roche’s EPO use was only focussed on 1993).

Nick March 15, 2017 at 2:10 pm

Artificial EPO only really became available for use medically in 1989, so it’s not too odd if cycling teams started using it from that date onwards.

gabriele March 15, 2017 at 3:03 pm

@Nick
Thank for the info, didn’t know that, I remembered the 1985 date, but that was just the scientific “discovery” of how to produce it or something like that.

I don’t know what happened with EPO, but I’m aware that CERA was available for athletes – although for a restricted number of them – as soon as 2005 (and some cycling teams were already getting it), even if it was approved by the European Commission only in August 2007 and by the US FDA in January 2008, being marketed in both continent in 2008 itself
(according to Wikipedia ^__^).
Anyway, that kind of situation would make more sense for CERA than for EPO, since the former appeared in a social context which was already conscious of the doping potential of the substance. Dunno about EPO, as I said.

hoh March 15, 2017 at 2:42 pm

Italians do glasses (of wine), not pints.

Though I can’t guarantee it’s not a presumption or stereotype.

Foley March 15, 2017 at 5:03 pm

Maybe the Stephen Roche influence?

CA March 15, 2017 at 9:25 pm

It really is a tragedy how mediocre Italian cycling has gotten. They’re just not using advanced training techniques because their teams have zero resources. All the rumours about top Italian teams forcing riders to bring a sponsor (aka, pay their own salary) just shows how little sponsorship is available. Therefore, there is no money for riders to use the same techniques as the other top teams.

Anonymous March 15, 2017 at 10:28 pm

You mean the italians like Nibali and Aru, Colbrelli and Viviani, De Marchi and Trentin and countless others? I am sure they really suffer from exactly this. Or like the Androni team, that just won the mountain competition in a WT-race or the Bardiani team, which would have won the points competition, if it wouldn’t have been for Sagan (I think, if Sagan wouldn’t have been on the podium in the last sprint stage, Maestri would have got it. And losing against Sagan is no shame).

Don’t fall for the hype.

Yes, there are problems, real structural problems, that stem from Italy itself, but also from the development cycling and the uci took the last years. But “not using top notch new advanced trainings methods” is surely not their problem or not their biggest problems, if it is one at all. Look what these sensational new methods did for Rolland or do for TVG.

The problems for the current italian teams seem:
-Smaller teams, meaning riders have to ride
-In every damn race the bigger teams expect them to go in a break and be the poor entertainer in the tv break (sorry, this always makes me angry, because the tv break is such an insult to us viewers)
-the stress of an insecure existence
-not knowing their raceprogram a year in advance like WT teams, who can plan according to that
-the general lack of money
-having to travel to Japan, Malaysia or China and ride a few days later in Belgium. That are some of the problems they have (said from the outside, I bet there are more, I couldn’t think about right now)

Italy has a lot, a whole lot of good riders and some coming stars (just look at this years Tour de L’Avenir). Could it be better? Yes. But it isn’t as if they are second rate or helpless or something. Italian riders still are a force in the peloton – in strength and numbers. The worry is more the future, cause the italian companies (people?) seem to don’t believe much in cycling as a sport anymore (personally I don’t think this has to do with doping, cause Pantani is still beloved. I think it is more, that cycling has moved away from them emotionally, it became a half stranger, with decisions they can’t understand and rules, that aren’t honorable or fair to them etc. and so only the Giro and a few other italian races gets them really involved. Something to lay on the altar of globalisation). Nibali explained just a few weeks ago, that this lack of belief in cycling exactly is, why he rides in non italian teams.

Tom Lehrer March 17, 2017 at 10:28 pm

“Don’t fall for the hype” yet Maestri would have won the points competition if it wasn’t for Sagan?

It’s not just Yanks that don’t do irony, huh?

A ‘doped’ competition, specifically designed by an Italian organiser of an Italian race to reward meaningless, hopeless, rubbish Italian break fodder in an Italian race but, yeah, losing to Sagan is no shame.

No wonder Gazzetta feels it has to do a series of articles on the systemic problems in Italian cycling if the tifosi are really as blind and accepting as this.

gabriele March 18, 2017 at 12:29 am

@Tom Lehrer
Uhmm, said that I agree with you about Italian cycling’s several woes which aren’t much diminished by Maestri’s performance, indeed, and adding as a sidenote that you look like you’re outright trolling, thus shouldn’t be fed…

Yet, I’ll give you a chance, if you feel like doing so, to elaborate on that story of the ‘doped’ points competition (is that “irony”, perhaps? ^__^): have a look at the final top ten, man, it’s all about GC guys, stage winners and sprinters, Maestri is the one and only break fodder around, how the hell is that going to be a competition biased towards escapees?

Besides, I think that it’s more or less the same point ratio between intermediate sprints and stage victory that’s used at the TdF (in fact, it corresponds to the one most favourable to stage victories among the several distributions which the TdF uses depending on stage type). I know, I know the French love Italians so much that they tilted one of the jersey of their big show in order to reward hopeless Italian break fodder, such a shame it didn’t precisely work!

Larry T March 16, 2017 at 1:12 am

Please don’t take this as an insult but I can’t help myself. When someone goes on about “advanced training techniques” all I can think about is SKY, where it’s slowly dripping out that perhaps their marginal gains idea and piles of sponsorship cash was not the only thing responsible for their success?
I think Italian WT pro cycling teams are almost extinct not only because of the financial situation but also the simple fact that few big money sponsors want to put their advertising budget into a sport that, despite Festina, BigTex and all the other doping scandals, just doesn’t seem to be able to convince the public that it really cares about cleaning things up. During my time in Italy, almost every single Italian who is not a bike rider or in the biz, when asked if they watch cycling on TV says to me, “Nah, they’re all doped. Who cares?”

Tricky Dicky March 16, 2017 at 4:48 am

@Larry – But what “top flight” Italian sponsors might be out there were it not for the “doping” hangover? There are a bunch of banking institutions (mostly insolvent), Luxxotica (how many glasses brands could they advertise though they probably want everyone to wear their Oakleys, rather than one team), Pirelli (but they’re more into moto sport?) and then a few national energy and TMT companies, like Telecom Italia and ENI. After that, you’re fairly quickly into Italian privately owned businesses that have owners who must love their cycling. Then, look at the costs and budgets now being so large that it’s really hard to justify as a rich person’s play-thing. An interesting side-note is Segafredo’s co-sponsorship of a US team of course…

I think there is an exciting generation of cyclists coming through in Italy across different disciplines (eg Moscon, Colbrelli, Felline, Formolo, Viviani, Aru). There’s also plenty of DS / Manager experience around the place. Compare it to Spain’s woes and Italy is rolling in young talent.

When/if Italian economy has enough strong companies that are flush with cash and which wish to get bigger exposure across Europe or the world, we may again see them back. Until then, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised to see Italian cyclists go to the UK or the UAE to earn their cash.

gabriele March 16, 2017 at 1:00 pm

@Tricky Dicky
Italy is still the number 8 country in the world in terms of GDP. That needs to come from some business, no?, be it a few big guys or a whole lot of smaller ones (or – as it indeed is – a combination). It’s not like “there’s no money”, come on! When we speak of a crisis, it’s about “growing less”, or “staying steady”, except in 2009 and in 2013. That implies some cashflow issues, no doubt, but let’s keep general proportions in place.
My take is that the private sponsorship woes, in Italy, depend on a lot of factors, most of which are sociocultural rather than just economic.
The role of former public companies is paramount, for example. We all know how privatizations often work. They go on maintaining very strong links with national politics, both because of the people who still work there and because of the nature itself of their business (which in the first place wasn’t *public* by pure chance…). Lotteries (three of them involved in WT and in top countries!), telecommunications (Movistar anyone?), energy, some banks.
When the relationship isn’t there, they can build it up sponsoring, say, the National Federation, then sharing public and private resources (trainers, research centres, structures).
The Italian State rarely involved itself that much with cycling: public money tended to come in from the local level (which is pretty different). Even the National RAI is often at risk of losing the Giro’s rights, imagine that (Mediaset broadcast it in the 90s).
Big company, most of them (but not eclusively) State-related, traditionally don’t invest in cycling – when they do, it’s just in the Giro.

I recently read a paper published by the National Anthropology Society of Mexico. The author defended the need to shift the focus from local, poor communities to the powerful ones (studies about little local communities are often used to better manipulate or vex them, very often by private companies, even if the studies are public-funded). The idea was to start studying the upper classes in order to better understand their social relations which become harmful for the society as a whole. End of the OT.
For sure, such an anthropological focus might help in understanding the crisis in Italian cycling.
The people who manage teams just don’t or didn’t belong to the social universe where the big money is to be found. They don’t know what ring to bell, they don’t have the right cell phone, they aren’t in the right home parties where decisions are taken, they’re used to talk with the owner, someone they understand well, not with some PR or Marketing Department General Vice Assistant. No powerpoint to show, no social media traffic data, no marketing studies.
It was all about the family business, the unschooled industrialist, products for manufacturing and that sort of stuff.
That pretty much worked when you could put up a decent team granting world exposure with 5 M and a big winning one with 10 M. Now it doesn’t anymore. Why spend your money (millions) if you aren’t going to be visible?

The people who sit in the right parlors in Rome are looking at granfondos. No sponsorships problems, there. Public and private money together. Cycling companies (Campagnolo, Bianchi, Sportful, Selle Italia etc. etc.) as well as banks, energy companies, supermarket chains, insurance companies, coffee, wine, whatever, they’re all in. It works great for amateur cycling, let’s go on… but please let’s take care of cycling as a whole system, too, including pro sport.
I’m not starting a rant on the subject right now, but that’s an example of what I mean with “anthropological factor”.

gabriele March 16, 2017 at 12:15 pm

This is a complicated one. To start with, let’s state the obvious: CA’s first sentence is spot on, Italian cycling has become mediocre (as in “not outright horrible”), and that’s a tragedy because it “has gotten” so, that is, it has wasted potential, it hasn’t fulfilled expectations, it got way worse when compared to the not-so-distant past.

All the same, let’s take into account that a “mediocre” Italian movement was the third in the absolute UCI World Ranking at the end of last season, behind France and Belgium but still getting the better of Colombia, Spain, UK, Netherlands, Australia, Slovakia, Norway and Germany.
Same goes for the UCI European CC Ranking: Belgium, France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Norway, UK…
Also in a ranking which tends to prime victory over placings even more than the UCI does, the PCS one, we can notice that Italy floats just below the podium (Spain, Belgium, Colombia, Italy, France, UK, Netherlands, Australia, Germany etc.).
Where Italy is really disappointing is in the WT: and, well, having just one WT team – very poorly financed – obviously doesn’t help. No need to explain how the sinergy between a rider’s nationality and his team’s works, I hope. No need, either, to explain how the WT is slightly biased, awarding lots of points to some races to promote them while ignoring others which greater importance and technical value, or including only the top 5 riders in its nation classification (clearly favouring a movement with an however limited excellence over one which thrives on depth).
However, that’s also about having more gregari than big riders… most WT riders are still Italian and French, I guess.
And more *mediocre* winners, too: at the end of 2016 Italy still topped, and by far (148 against France’s 109) the peculiar table of sheer victories, that kind of figures which our host loves so much.
In a sense, Italy’s crisis is also the crisis of cycling in general, as a widespread movement of local and perhaps minute races, as opposed to the business showcase where you’re told what’s great (that’s just a part of the story, obviously enough, Italy is suffering in Monuments, for example).

That said, the Italian situation is deeply worrying, especially in foresight. And it’s not just cycling, I’d say. I’d even wonder why cycling should survive the general decline, which is less economic than sociocultural…

But let’s stick to facts.
One problem might be State investment. A point made by Tricky Dicky about the banks made me think. Sure, several Italian banks are currently suffering, but – among other things – that’s also because they hadn’t ever received any substantial injection of public money (at least until this year), whereas Germany, Spain, UK “helped” the system with tens of billions of public money.
I don’t know about Colombia, the other raising nation, but the UK has been throwing a *huge* amount of public money into cycling.
Like 240% of Italy’s investment. Even after the recent cuts, it stays impressive. No need to say that, crisis or not, UK’s GDP is still far from being that bigger than then the Italian one, I think that it’s about one-and-a-half the Italian figures.
Note that Italian FCI collects +25% money in licensing fees when compared to BC, despite UK’s general cycling growth and despite the fact that in Italy many different institutions can gather your fees as an amateur racer, that is, *most* non-pro cyclists don’t get their license through the FCI.
The *public money* which BC has been receiving yearly at least until 2016 (and for 8 years at least), *that alone*, is more than the whole budget of the FCI, including fees, sponsorships, events, public money (for sure) and whatever else you can imagine.
In terms of *other little details*, Sky alone was paying to BC, before they separated ways one year ago I think, more money than the whole fund raising in other sponsorships, both by BC, and, obviously FCI in Italy.
That gives you a hint about the way a system might become a winning one… A mix of public and private investment, strong ties between structures and sinergy all over the place, floating over an astonishing quantity of money.

I just love most of it, it’s a great way to invest public money (hell, look at what cycling as a way of life has become in Great Britain). Well, it doesn’t exactly makes for fair competition, but let’s hope that it becomes an example for others, in a sense.
Then there’s the dark side of some dangerous side effects of that peculiar public-private mix, the less noble sinergies, but no need to spoil the magic right now.

(As a side note, French investment for the Federation is technically similar to Italy’s, but it doesn’t include the State support for the TdF, which, unlike the Giro in recent years, directly benefits French teams and riders. USA’s is -20% when compared to Italy and France, which is sad considering their GDP, but becomes really disappinting when you look at their current results. I’d love to know about Germany and Australia, besides Colombia).

Anonymous March 18, 2017 at 8:55 am

@Gabriele: Regarding the comment of tom lehrer: Don’t waste your energy in that discussion. It’s something I finally learned during the last year with brexit and trump. A nuanced, honest and constructive discussion is only possible, if both sides want that. But if one side already has his/her mind set on an idea/feeling and only looks for points to proof their idea, it is pointless. They think they can judge everybody else. They will hear what they want to hear, they will purposely misunderstand your words. You state one thing and they pretend you said it as an universal truth. They don’t ask: Why do you think this, I think it is the other way around? Because they’re not interested in your point of view. They think they know what you think/mean better than you yourself. They come in a discussion without any backup of their opinions, just with stating them as an universal truth and how stupid everybody else is, who sees it different.

Because it isn’t a discussion they want, they just want to vent their anger, they already have made up their mind and discount every other opinion as pointless, biased and false. These people are, why fake news always existed and will always exist. I think we all have that trait in us, maybe it is needed to survive, but most of us keep it in check, because we know, we aren’t the whole universe, but just a tiny point in it. And because we know we aren’t better than other tiny points in it.

Now I have my opinions too and of course I think I am right in them and can proof them too, that is normal, it is human. But I respect that it is only my opinion, from my point of view and emotions. And if someone has opposing points, that make sense, I take them into account. And I change my mind, if I find, that I saw something wrong or if my opinion was not objective enough. But for that I have to be interested in hearing what others have to say, how they see and feel things. I have to have an open mind and most important: respect for other people. And if you lack that, you will just have a discussion with yourself to prove yourself, that you yourself are the only one who knows how the world functions. They come aggresively into a discussion to make the other side look stupid, so that the other side is in the defense from the beginning. It is the equivalent of meeting someone and instead of shaking hands, you hit him/her in the face. I refuse to be a part of that. It is just stupid and a waste of time. I rather focus on the people, who really like to communicate.

And maybe that person is totally nice in every other way of life and only reacts to things about italian riders in this way, who knows. Then you can talk about everything else normally with that person, but not about that one thing. This discussion would go nowhere. It is pointless. A blind spot. What made me smile, because it so obviously showed the real feeling and intent of that comment, is the assumption, that I am italian. Very funny.

Ronan March 15, 2017 at 12:39 pm

While the assertion that MSR may be perfect for TV, the reality is that the racing can often – like reality tv – be formulaic. The real differentiator that you highlight above is that live sport is real and anything could happen in the race at any time.

We’re seeing that other races like LBL and Amstel are tweaking the finish to try and make the finish a bit less predictable, and I know that there is always talk about adding an extra climb in MSR, but I wonder if it suffers from the inverse of Strade Bianchi. Because of its age and ready-known formula, would additional climbs just be ridden differently as the riders ‘know’ that it’s the Poggio where the race is won and lost?

gabriele March 15, 2017 at 2:48 pm

I tried to answer, but the comment was posted as a separate comment below.

weeclarky March 15, 2017 at 12:46 pm

its always struck me as a bit of a shame there’s only one 300km race in the year. Fignon said in his book that there’s a selection which happens around 280km (if I remember?) which we don’t get to see these days.

(…rather them than me of course)

David March 15, 2017 at 1:06 pm

Pretty much agree with everything said in the blog.
It’s the creeping tension that makes me watch when the live coverage starts. An exceptional race.
Flanders and Roubaix have more action but the circuits at Flanders have slightly ruined it for me. Still a great race and a must-watch but riders are now waiting to the very end. The great thing about San Remo and Roubaix is that they are point-to-point races.
Last year’s finale at Roubaix had the same sort of tension as a San Remo but San Remo is special: maybe because it’s at the start of the best three weeks of the cycling season, maybe it’s the breadth of riders who can win – bit surprised Thomas isn’t riding this year – or maybe because it feels like the first really big race of the season, bigger than P-N and T-A, one that lots are tilting at.
Or maybe it’s because all the action is right at the death and therefore anyone still in the front 2o up the Poggio thinks they might have a chance of winning such a big, big race.
It’s a brilliant race.

paddyirish March 15, 2017 at 1:40 pm

A cycnic may say that last year’s winning move was launched on the Cipressa …

A great article- thank you.

gabriele March 15, 2017 at 2:47 pm

The Manie worked quite well, IMHO.
You don’t need the climb to be that near to the finish line and, yes, it depends on how the riders tackle it, but, at least, if a climb *is there*, somebody may decide to put further pressure on the sprinters and their teams.
It was even better as it was so far from the finish: you had something interesting to watch with 3 hours to go, that is, how did they tackle the climb, who was left behind, then the chase, who was pulling the front split and who was doing it behind etc., in short, a chance of great watching along several hours.

Though, I think that RCS wasn’t very satisfied with the sort of winners that were selected by that course.
The race was way more compelling, but it was being won by the random wheelsucker having a great day (sorry for being a bit harsh, but that was the feeling, especially among the wider public).
Look at the graph above: Le Manie was there from 2008 to 2012, both included (2013 had it on paper, but it was a special edition in itself, the one with the bus transfer because of the snow). They removed the climb from 2014 on.
They’d rather have a famous sprinter, a triumphing character, than one who copes especially well with the strong attacks on the hills on a given day, a “hybrid” figure who so often, being such, gets beat more often than not in other races.

I agree with the idea that *everybody* should be allowed by the course to hope for a victory, and, perhaps, the Pompeiana would eliminate some heavier sprinters.
OTOH, to keep the dream of an attacker’s victory alive, it mustn’t become totally fanciful: at least two or three editions every ten years with some winning move a bit further from the line would be appropriate. Presently, if you don’t include the Manie editions, and barring snow, that figures would be quite much at risk.

Not to speak about the fact that until 1995 the longest spell of the Sanremo not being won by any GT winner had been 9 years long, between Bobet 1951 to Poulidor 1961 (the two Rik emperors, who won a couple of Sanremo in the while, only podiumed in GTs… imagine that!).
That’s how we got Il Poggio from 1960 on.
The second-longest spell without GT winners grabbing a Sanremo is 6 years long, between Merckx 1976 and Saronni 1983. And the Cipressa was introduced in 1982.
Can you see a pattern?

In the last *20 years*, no GT winner ever won the Sanremo.
It’s even worse: if I’m not wrong, no rider who made a Sanremo podium in the last 20 years ever got even a *top 5 in any GT*, except Nibali (on a Le Manie course).
If I’m not wrong, from 1946 to 1995, in half a century of post-war cycling history, we *never* had more than 2 years in a row without a decent GC rider (anyone able to make a top 5 in any GT) climbing the Sanremo podium, that is, being more or less in contention.
Now pretty much nobody who’s in contention is able to fight for a GC in a GT, and nobody who’s good in GTs is coming even close.
Can you see a broken pattern?

Milano-Sanremo stays great, especially for his peculiar time structure, and I’m not sure that its traditional balance could be restored in modern hyper-specialised cycling, but I’d defend that something should be done to give it a try.

Nick March 15, 2017 at 4:10 pm

Think you’re right: Jalabert in ’95 was the last before Nibali.

Tricky Dicky March 16, 2017 at 5:00 am

@Gabriele – Thoroughly agree. The organiser should pop in a testing climb every few editions just to add a little unpredictability. Nothing crazy is needed, nor a major re-working of the route each year, just enough to make riders think they “might” have a chance if they tried to spice things up a bit earlier. There’s probably just too many riders (and I’m including domestiques here who can control the “chase”) in top condition these days for the Cipressa to work the same “filtering” magic that it used to.

GrahamG March 15, 2017 at 10:55 pm

I think the races longevity is down to the fact they do change it from time to time. I would have like to have seen at least one include the Pompeiana (spelling) or at least a shorter climb between the cipresssa and poggio, if such a thing exists. It has been tagged boring in the past too and hence the changes, we shouldn’t get too sniffy about tweaking the route

Having said that loved 2015, watched hours of it with the tension racking up, I actually thought I was going to have a heart attack in the last 5 mins (had a tenner on Matthews too). Love it 🙂

The Inner Ring March 16, 2017 at 10:35 am

Pompeiana would be an interesting climb and as you say the route has constantly changed over the years, largely in a bid to stop the race being 290km + a bunch sprint: first the Poggio, then the Cipressa and we had Le Manie too. I’m in two minds about Pompeiana, it’s a brute of a climb and a long descent and comes between the Cipressa and Poggio meaning it’d be very, very selective which rules out a lot of riders. But they could try it or perhaps use it sparingly, every few years for example.

J Evans March 16, 2017 at 12:19 pm

I don’t know what the three Masterchef presenters are like, but it’s a shame that we on Eurosport UK can hope for Rob Hatch, if we’re lucky, and a somewhat uninterested-sounding Sean Kelly.
I don’t know what’s happened to Kelly, but I can’t remember the last time he told me something I hadn’t already thought of.
Perhaps years of working next to Carlton Kirby’s clichés, shrieking and complete lack of focus on the race has ground him down.
Eurosport’s fealty to Kirby is even more baffling than their insistence on flashing up the result of the race if you use their rewind function online and happen to put your mouse on the wrong spot. (For a sports broadcaster it is incredible that they are ostensibly unaware that ‘not knowing the result’ is at the very top of page one in the book of ‘Things your viewers want’.)

noel March 16, 2017 at 1:36 pm

just hoping Sky don’t let their current distractions prevent them from providing their now customary comedy monument moment when they sit on the front and the lead man goes down taking out his team mates…

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