Pompeiana: RCS Need to Decide

Milan-Sanremo is famous for its tension, the longest race of the year is often decided in the final moments, a long wait that gets more and more nervous as the finish approaches. Now there’s a long wait to find out what’s happening to the course and whether the crucial new climb of Pompeiana is in or out.

A rough road and a wet winter mean the road might not be viable and as you’ll read below, municipal bickering is part of the problem too. Velonews reports there will be a meeting next Wednesday but what if this isn’t conclusive? Weather damage is understandable but the uncertainty is becoming inexcusable.

Why it matters
Announced last September the inclusion of the climb to Pompeiana and its descent has marked a big change in the finale because it’s a hard climb and a narrow descent. In the past the Cipressa and Poggio combo was just enough for a sprinter to hold on because each climb was spaced apart by a flat section along the Via Aurelia coastal road. Now Pompeiana sits in between meaning more climbing and less recovery.

In short this climb is decisive, it won’t pick the winner it does change the cast of characters who will arrive in Sanremo to dispute the win. Mark Cavendish had already announced he’ll never ride again. But if Pompeiana is out then the facts change and he could be back and others too will alter their view. Sprinters will be tempted and climbers will be dejected; Chris Froome has already said no grazie after hearing Pompeiana was out.

Either way riders and teams need to know. Some will have been planning and training on the basis of this new climb; punchy classics riders may have aimed to bring forward their peak form to mid-March rather than late April and the Ardennes. This is the longest race of the year, 300km and a bit more if you include the neutral start. This is not something to improvise nor enter at the last moment.

But that’s exactly what is happening with RCS who seem keen to find a solution to use the climb and are waiting and waiting. Here’s race boss Mauro Vegni to Velonews:

Maybe we can have some minor work carried out that’s good enough for at least for the race to pass… …They could stabilize it enough so that Milano-Sanremo could pass then carry out other work later. We have to understand just how serious the problem is; after that, we’ll know if it’s possible to do something or not.”

No can do attitude?
There’s also the negative image of Pompeiana and the surrounding area. Let’s not pretend the world is watching but all the same this race has an international reach that has made the tiny villages of Cipressa and Poggio famous.

The race is coming to town for the first time… only to meet a roadblock. But we must note the village of Pompeiana is only a part of this. The actual roadblock is near Castellaro, the next village down the road and its mayor Alessandro Catitti has closed the road. There’s talk of damaged guard rails by the road and potholes but there’s been plenty of time to makes repairs and besides, a pristine crash barrier in Italy is as rare as an unscratched car. Plus the steel rails offer little safety, their height is that of the front wheel and a cyclist risks going over the barrier cartoon-style. And that’s when there are barriers, long sections of the descent have stone walls, concrete edging and in many places, nothing.

If potholes are quick to remedy, the big problem is heavy rains over the winter. There’s been a landslide. But don’t imagine a scene of biblical devastation, some dirt has been washed onto the road and large concrete blocks have been placed on one side of the road as a temporary restraint. The blocks could be lifted and the dirt could be cleared in a day or two but this would only be temporary to allow the race to pass. And all this pre-supposes a decision could be taken fast. But local website sanremonews.it reports the section of land that’s slipped is on the border between the hill village of Castellaro and the coastal town of Taggia (note the piece doesn’t even mention the bike race) meaning municipal haggling. We have a situation where each side wants the road open but attributing the costs is taking time plus expert visits have declared that the earth has not stopped moving, there could be more landslides.

Engineering works on the descent are more than a day’s work with a shovel (Photo grabbed from Google Streetview)

From afar it looks petty but on the ground these works are expensive, a lot of the road is bordered by collapsed terraces as farmers have surrendered their small plots and old drainage channels have been abandoned meaning problems higher up on the hill have effects lower down… and often by the road. Loose soil and landslides are an annual problem on this road, the road is lined by expensive netting, walls and other engineering works. But so are other roads too, it’s the norm inland.

So what if the climb is dropped?
It was announced with a fanfare but if the race cannot pass, so be it. RCS can explain their safety concerns and admit the weather has taken a toll plus announce the race will visit next year: few will care. In fact many fans will rejoice as it could make the race more open again rather than just another hilly classic. More importantly teams and riders get the certainty they need to target the race.

There are 30 days to go and we still don’t know if the most strategic point of the race is in or out. Worse, it seems RCS is hoping for a  quick-fix which could get washed away if it rains. Roads get damaged and landslides happen, the sport has to deal with what nature brings and there’s no shame in cutting the climb. You sense the authorities are indifferent to Milan-Sanremo, they want the road open but won’t move heaven and earth, or even earth for La Primavera.

RCS shouldn’t let the saga drag on and wait for others to act. Pompeiana totally alters the balance of the race and a major rendez-vous like this shouldn’t have uncertainty over such a crucial road. The saga has gone on too long, it’s time to decide.

37 thoughts on “Pompeiana: RCS Need to Decide”

  1. Thanks for laying it all out.

    RCS – make the call now, and say that Pompeiana’s out for this year, anyway. Too late to reinstant Le Manie, but so be it.

  2. Indeed time for the organizers to make a decision. Waiting for local authorities or engineers to agree a solution gives little hope and no time scale. Teams, riders and the sport deserve better. Remove the Pompeian climb now and lets get on with the show.

  3. I am not a ‘directeur sportif’ so I can enjoy the race even if I don’t know in advance who will win. In other words, I think you are making this a bigger issue than what it really is. These primadonnas on their shiny bikes will bitch about the route, but that’s their problem. Having a bit of uncertainty in the race just makes it more interesting.

    • If the Pompeiana is included, it suits a rider like Froome; if not, it suits a rider like Cavendish. Night and day, respectively. A decision probably should have been made already so that everyone can schedule the beginning of their season and their training. Even if they are prima donnas, they do have to ride where they’ll be competitive in order to earn their keep.

      The indecision can probably be blamed on too many Lords and no consensus. If RCS could afford to clean up the road surface from debris, everyone would win and RCS wouldn’t be at the mercy of others. But, if it’s going to be this much trouble annually, I can’t imagine that’s good for such an important race.

      As to the drastic change to the character of the monument, what if they included the Pompeiana on alternate years? That might be fun for everyone.

    • Not making a bigger issue of this than it is. Some teams have to change their line up rather dramatically based on the inclusion or absence of this climb. And the race is more interesting when teams and riders can properly prepare for the race. It doesn’t matter to a team like Cannondale who ride for Sagan either way, but it sure matters to teams trying to prevent him from being the inevitable winner.

  4. Despite the stupidity of your – “..a pristine crash barrier in Italy is as rare as an unscratched car.” I’ll agree with one thing, they need to make up their minds on this and pronto! Zomegnan (oh, how I wish they’d never sacked him) was pestered by some to include this climb in MSR years ago, but didn’t want to mess with what had become sort of a classic route. Remember the whining and crying over the Crostis a few years back? Nobody wants a repeat of that, no matter which side of the argument you were on. I’m certainly a minority, but I don’t always consider change equal to progress and I don’t really care if Chris Froome shows up or not.

    • So many roads in Italy are like this, dented barriers from Sanremo to Bari… but often the road surface is very good, predictable. I don’t see the barriers as a safety problem, it’s the landslide that needs to be cleared and fixed.

      • I’d rather have no barriers than the low sort. I’d rather slip of the edge and come into contact with the ground immediately and hopefully start slowing down than get catapulted through the air for several seconds first.

        • Well, the barriers are designed for cars which are lower (or at least with a lower CG).

          The barriers would stop cars. Without them cars at high speed would certainly fly for more than a few seconds.

  5. Does the UCI play any role in these decisions (not that it would expedite anything)? I realize it’s the promoters role to establish the route, but if safety and making a mockery of the calendar are the concerns then it seems like the sanctioning body should step in. On the other hand, we’ve seen weather disrupt and alter races in real-time recently, so maybe one month’s uncertainty isn’t so bad.

    • The UCI is a very weak organization. They set rules and provide officials to enforce some of the countless rules but cannot arbitrate the affairs of two Italian towns. It seems like RCS can’t get them to sort out their differences either.

      The UCI have rescued races before, but only by providing funds. And that’s generally very last-minute and then the race is demoted.

      • You need to understand the mind set of local authorities in this part of the world. There is a certain amount of civic competition, independence, pride and a power base mentality between mayor’s. This makes rapid resolution on many issues almost impossible. The UCI would certainly not be welcome as mediators.
        RCS should make a decision, the sooner the better.

  6. The argument that the race is boring w/out the climb doesn’t hold any water at all, the suspense is what makes MSR completely unique on the calendar. If it wasn’t 300km, then yes, it would almost always end in a sprint, but since the inclusion of La Manie in 2008, the balance of the race has been fantastic.

    2008 Cancellara (solo break from a small group)
    2009 Cavendish (best sprint finish I think I’ve ever seen)
    2010 Freire (sprint)
    2011 Goss (sprint from a small group)
    2012 Gerrans (sprint from a very small group with everyone breathing down their necks)
    2013 Ciolek (sprint from a small group)

    I’d say 2010 was the only one that didn’t have me pulling my hair out and yelling at the set.

  7. Madness. 30 days to go and we don’t know who the race is for. It’s like the Giro deciding whether to visit the Alps or not.

    You’d think with last year’s MSR route and the Giro snow closures they’d nail this race for good.

  8. On one hand, having the race route of a Monument unknown 30 days prior is completely unprofessional, and RCS should just go for the old route until the bureaucrats have settled their differences.

    On the other hand, riders who only want to ride MSR ‘if it suits them’ because of this one climb don’t show the respect that a real race winner needs to show, and I would be okay if those riders would choose to stay away from the race because of this ongoing situation.

    Either way, I am definitely going to watch. In that sense, RCS have done a good job hyping this up.

    • I don’t see the lack of respect in adjusting your schedule of training and racing to specific goals for a season, based on your strengths suiting particular races. An attitude of “I can win this, no matter what the course is” may sound tough but I would say it shows more of a lack of respect (towards the other competitors).

  9. Besides the law problem for local administrations in Italy I’ve hinted at in another post, we shouldn’t forget that RCS Sport has some considerable leadership problem, having lost out of shady manoeuvres a couple of commanders-in-chief during the last three years…
    It’s not easy to decide when you’re no decision-maker!

  10. Sounds like they should just drop it this year & try again next year.

    Can I ask a silly question. Do the classics follow the same route (more or less) each year or are they different each year or is it a case of slow evolution in the race route?

    • Many race routes change slightly. Depending on the race and the change it could be not particularly important while other changes are very important.

      Inner ring covers the changes, when they matter like this one perfectly. Another great post!

    • Milan-Sanremo is a perfect case study because the route has been changed over the years. They got sick of sprint finishes so added the Poggio… but the sprinters learned to cope with that and bikes got better and roads smoother so they added the Cipressa too. And so on with the Le Manie and then the climb to Pompieana this time.

      Other races change all the time. Milan-Sanremo is rare as it starts and finishes where it suggests, unlike Paris-Roubaix which starts an hour outside Paris.

  11. 30 days is a long time to wait, but also plenty of time for work to be done. There’d be no shortage of volunteers to do the work for them. Hell, I’d pop over the border to help out, and I’m sure there are others even on this blog!
    However, in a previous life (i.e. a single life!) I lived in Italy, and too often it’s not the will which is lacking – it’s the official go ahead. Red tape and, as others have noted, municipal point-scoring.

    In short – give it up RCS!

  12. Classic Italian.

    This disorder should not come as a surprise with an organization living up to notoriously inefficient Italian standards. RCS has had a shuffle of directors that have proven themselves mere Cunegos in the wake of Angelo Zomegnan, the Pantani.

  13. “This may be more of an issue than the danger concerns on the Pompeiana; the Manie descent is not only narrow, but tightly packed with buildings. If you go too hot into a corner, instead of going off the road you’ll end up splatting on a wall. But the outcome, if the Pompeiana doesn’t appear, is a throwback to the pre-2008 course. Without the Pompeiana or le Manie, it’ll be a sprinters’ delight.”

    Pussies. The IOM TT has walls and cliffs around many bends. Where motorbikes approach 200mph.
    Crying MARY’s of the peleton..strick again. Vagina’s in Lycra.

  14. Here we are, with the worst possible solution.
    It’s really a shame that the Manie are out, *that* was a great solution that granted plenty of emotional finishes, and, even more important, something tactically worth watching in the hours before.
    RCS has lost the compass, no doubt.

    That assured, I’d like to add something more, even if it shouldn’t be me saying this, as an Italian (maybe it would have been better if good sense had come from another country, but apparently it’s not possible): the classic “Classic Italian” comments are pure s**t… and as such really don’t belong to the “standards” of this blog.
    I won’t even start discussing that, someone will say that it’s fun, why bother and so on.
    Let’s see, I was able to appreciate Von Trier’s humour about Susanne Bier and Hitler, something that just escaped to 90% of people (reason on their side, I suppose), but this sort of stereotypes and generalizations aren’t even humorous, they’re what in Spain is called metaphorically – or not? – “rancio” (rancid), “casposo” (with a problem of dandruff).
    Like, I don’t know, “jokes” about women driving or Englishmen being impotent: something so pathetic and humiliating for the person uttering them, that you just feel you’d better leave the room out of embarass (again, Spanish has a great expression: “vergüenza ajena”, I’m ashamed for something you did without apparently feeling ashamed as you should).

    Luckily, I can say something about “Vagina’s [sic] in lycra” without any conflict of interest: the last person I knew about who loved this kind of free association exercises was Sir Wiggo, in a cycling season during which most of the female peloton would have been able to deliver him what he deserved…
    The fact that many people decide to risk their own lifes (and others’) out of adrenaline and fun doesn’t make it more intelligent. You know, there are some guys that love to come to the most crappy hotels of Costa Brava just to end their lifes trying to jump to the pool from their room’s balcony. If a vagina is needed to avoid doing that, I want one.


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