Sunday, March 20, 2011

Start of the Classics season! - Milan-San Remo

Photo by Graham Watson.

Yes! The Classics season has begun! I am about as far from a "Classics-type rider" as you can get but I've always enjoyed watching these tremendous one-day races.

If you're reading this blog, you likely already know that Matthew Goss won the first Monument of the season, the 298km race that starts in Milan and finishes in San Remo. It's traditionally been labelled the "Sprinters' Classic" since the parcours isn't hard enough to break the field up and it ends up in a bunch sprint.

This year's race was a very good one, though I found the finish somewhat entertaining. There was a lead group of 8 that broke away from the peloton and made it to the end. This was a highly select group that included several types of specialists, including sprinters (Matt Goss), "classics" riders (Philippe Gilbert), and time trialists (Fabian Cancellara). As they came to the finish line, nobody was initially sprinting. They were all just looking around, trying to see who would make the first move. I actually thought they were going so slow that they'd fall off the bike.

And then the sprints began and I saw Cancellara slide in behind Matt Goss and then Gilbert to try to get a lead out... the problem is that Cancellara is twice the size of all the other riders. I tried to imagine what was going on in Cancellara's head.

"Okay, I'm going to get in behind Goss and use him as my lead out."
"There we go, great position."
"How come I'm still riding into the wind?? WTF, why is he so small? What kind of lead out is this?"
"Okay, maybe behind Gilbert."
"Crap, he's tiny too!"
"Screw it, I'm coming up the left side and I'll just run them over."
"Dammit, he's fast. Probably because he's the size of one of my thighs."

Of course, Cancellara being the gentleman racer, I'm sure at his post-race interview he said something about it being a beautiful race. He always says that.

On another note, the announcer in the Universal Sports clip on YouTube (link here, since it won't let me embed the video) confuses Gilbert and Goss at the finish line (3:30 in the video):
"And Gilbert kicks ahead. Cancellara goes alongside him! [pause, probably some scratching of the head] And victory comes for Matthew Harley Goss."

One thing that I appreciated about the race happened at the very start. Instead of the traditional sign-in, the riders all signed a Japanese flag and gave it to the Japanese road racing champion, Takashi Miyazawa, before the race. He cried at the beginning of the race. A completely symbolic gesture but touching nonetheless.

Photo by Bettini.

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