Lee’s Lowdown: Milan San Boring?
The Milan – Sanremo is the first, longest and in many of PEZ journo’s minds the most beautiful of the ‘Monuments’. Lee Rodgers has a bit of a different take on the great Primavera though as he analyses all the action from yesterday’s big race.
Ready for some blasphemy? Ok, well, Milan-San Remo is a little boring.
There, I’ve said it now, it’s out there and I can’t take it back.
It’s like the bloated uncle sat loosening his belt after too much turkey and stuffing at Thanksgiving. It’s a Hummer in a car park full of thoroughbred race cars. It’s that kid that can’t play football that is still left standing there, alone at the end, every time you pick teams.
Romantic? Lomdardia is romantic, the fallen leaves, the twists and the turns, the country lanes, the dappled light through the trees. MSR is about brutality. It’s a Colliseum of a race, a stage for a battle between giant men whose knuckles scrape the floor when they’re not scraping blood from their narrow eyes. It’s one of those bare knuckle fights from 1888 where the winner is the last man standing.
Beautiful? It’s not even that. That it’s ‘decided’ by three relatively piddling little climbs in the closing kilometers (which in fact it rarely is ‘cos they aren’t that hard, relatively speaking) says to me that this is a Classic that leaves a little to the imagination. If it came a week after Roubaix it might just be something, a cruel, leg-busting 298km behemoth of a race coming after those cobbles and Flanders that would leave few finishers and really be a tester.
Or if its climbs were more majestic, steeper, anything. Yes the descent on the Poggio is tough and there have been some great, great victories made there (most vivid in the mind might be Sean Kelly’s in ’92), but the recent spate of mass sprints are leaving me feeling like this race, in spite of its length, just isn’t hard enough. I can hear the knives sharpening already…
But look at the fitness levels of the professionals these days and you might reconsider your objection to my last point. Sprinters were up there today where in previous years, or rather generations, more would have been dropped. Nibali made a decent stab of it (and I am really beginning to admire that man’s pluck) but the others that might have joined him, such as Gilbert and the other whippets that were in the group, were overly-rational in their thinking and convinced that it was essentially a hopeless endeavor, for the fast men’s helpers were gonna bring it all back together in the end.
One thing you can’t take away from the Italian though is his guts. Just as Sean ‘I Tell It Like I See It’ Kelly had said that Nibali was taking it easy on the descent of the Poggio, Nibali then proceeded to make up 30 meters ground on the front two in about 5 seconds and then whizzed past them like a nutcase in a wingsuit ripping it down a Norwegian fjord. Mesmerising and slightly scary stuff.
The weather did its best to inject some drama though, and I got a good chuckle out of seeing the world’s best riders look like weekend club riders, all tucked up tight in their cold weather gear. Cycling’s unsexy enough at the best of times, it fails miserably as a fashion statement in the cold. And don’t even get me started (again) on those helmets.
That the Italians too are wearing them is a travesty, and I can imagine that the Style Police will be knocking on a few doors tonight.
‘Allo?! Is that Katusha? Sorry, but the whole team will have to come with us…”
I know, I’m such a fashionista (they tell me that’s another word for ‘bitch’…). Speaking of fashion, I do like Rui Costa’s World Champ kit, and he put up a decent effort that brought another smile to my face – not in the race, but in the Merida commercial that plays on EuroSport. I swear he sounds Japanese in it, (maybe he’s doing it for a bet?) but it did get me wondering which Classic he could win. Closest was 9th at Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2013 – could it be another Curse of the Rainbow Jersey? I hope not.
As I was watching the huge efforts put in my Alessandro De Marchi at the business end of the race, it struck me just what a tough job the Cannondale domestiques have.
Think about it. On the other teams that have an established sprinter, the guys designated to protect him have to keep him out of trouble and maybe chase down a break towards the end of the race, then get him to the line a la HTC-Highroad. Ok, not easy I know, but for the Cannondale guys, they have to try to destroy the sprinters by ramping up the speed from anywhere from 50-30km out, sitting on the front and just blasting away til the fast fast men get dropped, or at least dented, one by one, thus freeing up the road for Sagan.
That’ll get you fit – or exhausted – in no time, and hats off to De Marchi, he was very impressive to the end, chasing down Nibali single-handedly and doing all he could to help Sagan out. Lotto-Belisol made a decent fist of it too by setting a blistering pace in the last 10km, when Greipel looked pretty good, but then he faded and their eggs all got crushed in one single, gloopy moment. That’s bike racing for you I guess.
In the end the winner of the Milan-San Remo 2014 edition was a man no one really fancied – not even himself. Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff said at the end that he was hopeful for a top ten and that he couldn’t believe he’d won, evidenced by his rather slack-jawed look as he crossed the line.
The most emotional man after 298km was Fabian Cancellara, who rolled in in 2nd. He was not happy was he? You couldn’t say he mistimed it though, he just got beaten by the strongest sprinter left. Kristoff said at the end that though he knew Cavendish and Greipel were in the group, he still felt good, adding that “It’s different after 300km than after 200km.”
And that, in a nutshell, is Milan-San Remo.
Lee Rodgers leads a double life as a pro racer on the UCI race circuit with the Lapierre Asia Cycling Team, competing in the UCI Asia Tour as well as some European events and the likes of the Tour of Qatar and Oman, rubbing shoulders with the best the WorldTour has to offer, whilst keeping up a day job as a cycling journalist. The highlight of his cycling career so far was winning the Singapore National Champs – road race and ITT – as well as claiming the Green Jersey at the 2.1 Tour de Taiwan in 2012, and naturally, writing for PEZ. His writing appears in several magazines and websites and you can catch up with him regularly on his blog, https://crankpunk.com/