Don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone

March 19, 2012

Dear Milan-SanRemo organizers,

Please don’t screw around with your beautiful race! After one of the most thrilling bike races in a long time this past saturday, it’s disheartening to read that you’re not happy with the result. So you wanted “the strongest” one to win or even better, an Italian with Nibali. A few thoughts:

  • If the strongest rider DID always win, we wouldn’t watch the race anymore, because it would be, let me look for the technical term here; BORING!
  • You can’t device a route where Nibali has a chance of winning. Actually, you can, but it would have to go to North from Milan instead of West, go around Lake Como, cross the Ghisallo. And it would have to be held in the fall.  Oh wait, you already organize such a race. It’s called the Giro di Lombardia.
  • Aside from that, cycling isn’t about being the strongest anyway, we have stuff like this for people who love that sort of thing. Cycling is about strength, endurance, tactics and bluff. As Hennie Kuiper said so perfectly, it’s about finishing off everybody else’s plate before starting your own. Gerrans did that beautifully, not because he’s an asshole but because that’s the only way he could win.
  • People who say Gerrans should have taken a few pulls should go work for the United Nations, not watch sports. If Gerrans and Cancellara both have “lactate acid coming out of their ears” (as Cancellara put it), Cancellara will win the sprint. Gerrans’ best bet was to make sure only Cancellara’s ears suffered from this infliction. Gerrans analyzed what his highest percentage play was, executed and won.
  • So are people really saying Gerrans should have fatigued himself to the point where he would have lost? How does that make sense? Or are they suggesting a few fake pulls for the camera, which not only would have been lame but could actually have gotten them caught, as the pace will drop whenever Cancellara is not at the front. Not only should these people not watch sports, they shouldn’t be a coach either. “OK guys, listen up, I’ve devised a strategy to reduce our winning chances, but the twitter comments will be awesome!”

The bottomline is that Milan-SanRemo is one of the most perfectly balanced races on the calendar. Unlike virtually every other race, it has a near perfect split between mass sprint and small group/solo victor. In other words, throughout the race, in fact usually until the last meters, we have no idea who will win the race, we don’t even know what type of ending we’ll get. How is that not awesome?

And even if for some reason you don’t think that’s awesome and you want something else, how will the suggested solutions solve anything?

  • There are suggestions to end the race immediately at the bottom to prevent people from coming back from behind. Aside from the fact that that would take a lot of the suspense out, how would it change anything? Gerrans still would have beaten Cancellara and Nibali.
  • Some say they should climb the Poggio twice, pointing to Nibali’s jump to prove that climbing the Poggio just once isn’t enough to make a difference. Shouldn’t the conclusion be that Nibali’s simply wasn’t good enough? You could have done five laps of the Poggio, he wasn’t going to drop Cancellara or Gerrans. In fact, he was the one who almost got dropped the only time up.

Don’t get me wrong, I too am disappointed that Gerrans won, but not because of the tactics.


Gerard, cycling fan

28 Responses to “Don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone”

  1. Charsa Says:

    Gerard, once again you are the voice of common sense. Thanks for the great articles

  2. Tim Homola Says:

    I agree. Sparticus was certainly the strongest rider, I wanted him to win, and he probably deserved the win, but he didn’t because Gerrans played it brilliantly. Fabian couldn’t really have done anything differently, otherwise they wouldn’t have stayed away. With a 10 second gap, not too much room for cat and mouse. Great exciting race IMO

  3. Fausto Says:

    thanks Gerard, you put it right, that’s one of the most spectacular races, you do not know until the very end who’s going to win. and this year’s edition was very exciting!

    the idea of doing a loop twice around the Poggio after 294 kms is totally mad

    about the disappointment: let’s say you are more a Cancellara fan then a Gerrans’s?
    anyway they both rode Cervelos in the past :)

    ps. let us know about Garmin Barracuda’s riders first ride on the P5 (for the Giro TTT maybe?)

    • Yep, both rode Cervelos in the past, maybe that’s why I have my preferences. I don’t know about the first ride on the P5 for Garmin, you’d have to check that with Cervelo.

      • Fausto Says:

        Vaughters said on the Cyclingnews web-chat that the only rider having already tried it is Zabriskie

  4. neurobe Says:

    Should be giving Gerrands credit for more than just ‘nouse’. Not a struck match between him and Valverde at the moment. And just watch Valverde tear apart Catalunya.

  5. Dave Says:

    Agreed, but with performances/wins like that is why one is simone gerrans and the other is SPARTICUS!

    Gerrans did what he had to do to win but with little heart and no panache. The performance to remember is Sparticus’s and it will be remembered long after the ink fades.

  6. Fabian had two choices:
    1-Stay on the front for a guaranteed podium
    2- Let Gerrans pull and get caught by the much fresher sprinters in the peloton.

    He had no choice, I would rather get 2nd than top 20 because I got caught with 20 meters to go.

  7. Gerard,
    Would you mind explaining why are disappointed Gerro won ? rather than disappointed fabian didn’t ?
    Sounds like your making it Personal ??

  8. djconnel Says:

    And this is why I disagree with Gerard here: we want races which produce the type of racing we want given that riders are maximizing their chances. Fabian had a no-win choice, and fortunately picked the more desirable option (the other to refuse to pull and get caught, leading to a bunch sprint). The very balance sought by Gerard was missing.

    End the stage at the bottom of the descent? That would be madness. You’d have serious injuries as riders would be forced to try and move up on those very risky switchbacks. But it makes sense to move the finish partially closer to the base of the Poggio. Riders shouldn’t be put in the lose-lose position of taking a suicide pull or getting caught, and right now the ratio between the ability of the Poggio to generate a gap and the ability of what follows to eliminate the gap is out of balance.

  9. One of the many aspects of Pro Cycling that makes it, in my opinion, one of the greatest sports in the world is the blend of power, endurance, and tactics. Men will work with an opposing team member to further their common cause until that moment in time where their interests no longer mesh and it is every man for himself. What other sport creates such a tactical environment?

  10. lukascph Says:

    The race finished closer to the Poggio until very recently, when they moved it from the Via Roma to the Lungomare (because of a tramway being constructed in the Via Roma if I remember correctly). In principle, I too think the finish should be moved closer to the Poggio again, and preferably to the historical finish on the Via Roma (though that may not be possible). But ironically, the final of the race has favoured the attackers more in the years since the finish changed than in the years immediately before – which in my opinion is a sign of something entirely different though: The donkeys aren’t racehorses anymore, to use that analogy once again.
    Gerrans took two – short – pulls on the front, unless Nibali, who clearly was totally wasted.

  11. beev Says:

    Fabian has always refused to race negatively, and accepts that days like Saturday can and will happen. He has stated this much himself. He is a remarkable rider though, and i’m sure many more top steps await him.

    Nibali no doubt made his play for race leadership with all his gobbing off during T-A, and in doing so ruined the chances for an Italian team win – Sagan i’m sure is secretly spitting feathers, because if the trio were to stay away (as they did) then the order across the line was a nap bet, and all the prodigious Slovak could do was watch it unfold helplessly.

    Changes to the route? I’m sure tinkering will be done, and i’m equally sure that no matter what is done, it will not make the result any easier to predict. Short of doing a loop into France and then making all non-Italians produce passports as they head back towards San Remo, I see very little that can be done that will produce a home winner with any certainty….

  12. Anonymous Says:

    I know very little about pro cycling but I know it was great sport to watch. Surely NIbali is the one who got it wrong! if he had not attacked on the Poggio then Sagan would probably have won? Was his job not to work for the team?The same could be said of Gerrans, should he not have done his job and taken the lead, then allowed the bunch to catch them and given Goss the chance to take the sprint victory? Then the moaners would still be here moaning. they cannot win these guys.

  13. larryatcycleitalia Says:

    Excellent piece! Guys like Chiappucci and Bugno won on pretty much the same course as the current one, so why mess with it? The guys running the RCS racing program seem to be paying more attention to what’s on Facebook than what makes sporting sense or respects tradition. The single-minded passion of guys like Torriani or Zomegnan are what makes the Italian races great. They’re in danger of losing this I’m afraid.

    • I disagree, I think there are very history-minded people at the helm of RCS right now as well. And don’t forget that people probably didn’t like it when they added the Poggio. I am not against changing the course, and sometimes you have to change in order to keep things the same. So if you see that the Poggio today can’t make the difference the way it could 10 years ago, then thinking about a change to make its relative toughness similar again to the past is an interesting idea.

      I just object to the idea that the race is broken just because Nibali can’t win it or just because it was a finish of 3 instead of a solo. A Milan-SanRemo that always finishes in a solo is not Milan-SanRemo.

      So if it’s broken, by all means fix it. But I would argue it isn’t broken AT THIS POINT, so why change anything?

      • larryatcycleitalia Says:

        GV-the things that have happened since Zomegnan’s ouster suggest otherwise to me, but I hope you are right and I am wrong!

  14. I liked Spartacus before but I soooo totally LOVE him now. That effort was EPIC! I’m disappointed that he didn’t win but WOW what an ending! Also, we could have had a different ending if the finish line was 200-300m farther. Just sayin’.

    • Sure, and if the line was 10cm up in 2009, Haussler would have won. That’s why they don’t put the finish line on the road using invisible ink. They make it pretty darn clear so that everybody knows where it is!

      • beev Says:

        gerard – in fairness, i think that meylina’s comment was in the context that with everyone – well principally RCS – now clamoring for a finish line closer to the poggio, moving it further away would equally make for different outcomes (this year included). That’s certainly how i read it. And 2009 only reinforces your point about what a great race this is, with (expected) unexpected outcomes – i just guess that you didn’t see it that way on the day, or even now for that matter….

        • I do see it that way, that’s still one of my favorite races. Of course I would have loved to have seen it the other way round (would have been equally exciting a race but it would have been nicer for me), but the photo of that finish is a real classic either way.

  15. Sisu Says:


    And Cancellara did win…in 2008!

    I guess we should’ve changed the Hell of the North after Boonen kept winning. Madness!!

  16. Roger Says:

    Couldn´t agree with you more, I´m a great fan of Fabian Cancellara and I was disappointed to see he couldn´t drop Gerrans and Nibali on the run-in but, hey, that´s racing and I am happy with the terrific spectacle he gave us. Can´t wait for Flanders and Paris – Roubaix!

  17. When men were men, and there was more than “A bunch” and 3 guys trying to breakaway!!!

  18. […] change the MSR finish, says INRNG and Gerard Vroomen (and […]

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