Still bamboozled with the race organiser’s sentiments after Milan-San Remo, Anthony Tan wants to know: exactly what is the problem with foreign winners and a variety of courses that reward different types of riders?
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM


Mauro Vegni is an idiot. There are all kinds of races, and they are all exciting in their way. Cycling would be boring if we put the finish at the top of hills and mountains every time. It would also be boring if we put the finish at the bottom of hills and mountains every time. San Remo is exciting in the way it was this year. The L'Equipe article was just 127 words long but plenty was said. And even though it's been almost two weeks since the race was held, the comments made by RCS Sport technical manager of cycling, Mauro Vegni, continue to irk me.

"It's true that we have experienced an attractive finale, but once again the Poggio has not allowed Vincenzo Nibali to make the selection," the parochial Vegni told L'Equipe in its March 19 article, two days after the race was astutely won by our own Simon Gerrans.

"But a race that doesn't give an attacker the chance to finish it off alone is not a race anymore. We'll have to modify it, to make it a bit harder," added Vegni.

Did this bloke even watch the race, which for my money was one of most thrilling in years?

Nibali's attack did indeed force a selection – but it was an attack that was attentively and briskly marked by Gerrans and a few hundred metres later, Fabian Cancellara. Even if the finish of the race had been at the top of the Poggio, the Italian would almost certainly have lost, since he owns a finish about as fast as Andy Schleck, which is not very fast at all.

Vegni's appointment, along with RCS Sport general manager Michele Acquarone, coincided with the departure last year of Angelo Zomegnan, who held the post of race director of the Giro d'Italia (among other cycling events including Milan-San Remo) from September 2004.

During his seven-year reign, Zomengan was praised for making the Giro more exciting but towards the end of his tenure, denounced and ridiculed for turning 'La Corsa Rosa' into a freak show, as the race took on an increasingly farcical nature to meet his megalomaniacal standards. "The hardest race in the world's most beautiful place," became the Giro's mantra, beating its chest Tarzan-like at the self-declaration.

Yet seemingly unbeknown to Signore Zomengan, two insidious things were taking place: a number of riders who were teetering on the edge of the 'do I or don't I?' doping conundrum were now opting (or at least experimenting) with the former; and, just as the race began attracting more foreign riders and thus foreign interest, the existential difficulty of the percorso was turning them away, particularly those with an eye on July.

Clear proof of that came last year, when the world's-best-stage-race-talent-now-suspended, Alberto Contador, attempted to do the Giro-Tour double. He won the Giro by a whopping 6'10 margin over Michele Scarponi but would pay for his efforts two months later, conceding 3'57 to Cadel Evans at the Tour to finish fifth overall. (Contador's results have now been annulled following a successful appeal by the UCI and WADA to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, who slapped the Spaniard with a two-year, backdated ban that will end on August 5 this year.)

Depending on whom you ask, Zomegnan walked or was pushed out, replaced by Acquarone and Vegni. Nevertheless the damage has been done: this year, not one bona fide Tour de France contender will ride the Giro, either as preparation or in combination with La Grande Boucle. And with the continued growth in popularity of the Tour of California, also held in May but half as long, it will take some convincing to entice said contenders back to Italy again.

This year's Giro is a tempered version of those seen in recent years, so when the route was unveiled last October, I assumed these new race organisers got the message that harder is not always better. But following Vegni's comments after Milan-San Remo, I'm not so sure.

At face value, it seems RCS Sport are happy for foreigners to come to their races but less so if they win – particularly if they make a habit of it, as Matthew Goss and Gerrans have done at M-SR the past two editions. Stage wins are fine, which explains their proclivity for Mark Cavendish and the publicity he brings to the Giro, but GC and the major one-day races should be the domain of locals, it appears.

If one were to employ Vegni's flawed rationale that "a race that doesn't give an attacker the chance to finish it off alone is not a race anymore", you would probably say the majority of the WorldTour calendar – actually, we might as well make that virtually all cycling races across the globe – is screwed, for most cycling races do not end by way of solo victories, nor are designed so.

As for Milan-San Remo, RCS Sport is considering two options before the 2013 edition gets underway, and may implement one or both. The first is to add more climbing late in the race between the Cipressa and Poggio; the other is to move the finish closer to the base of the Poggio (this year, the top of the Poggio was around 6.5 kilometres from the end).

The irony is that had Nibali descended like a demon off the Poggio and soloed to victory, both these options wouldn't even be considered and the 2013 race would be a carbon copy of the one held this year.

And that in M-SR, a successful breakaway happens only every now and then (until this year the last being 2003, won by Paolo Bettini) is a large part of what makes millions of viewers sit on the edge of their seats for hours on end. Take that away and you take away the suspense, and before too long, interest in 'La Classicissima' will wane.

One race that has already gone down the 'harder is better' route is this weekend's Tour of Flanders, much to the chagrin of many in the peloton. The revised course is now said to favour an Ardennes style of rider rather than a big-ring rouleur… are Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège not enough for them?

It'll be interesting to see if De Ronde's modified, more difficult, route makes for a more spectacular race, or whether the dastardly parcours neutralises the intoxicating race that was yesteryear, when outsider Nick Nuyens stole the favourites' limelight en route to his first monument.

Twitter: @anthony_tan