Outsiders at their own race: Milano-Sanremo

After ten years of waiting, will 2016 see an Italian win in Sanremo? (Cor Vos)
Is Vincenzo Nibali the man to break Italy’s Sanremo drought? (Cor Vos)

After ten years of waiting, will 2016 see an Italian win in Sanremo?

Last Autumn, the Italian drought finally ended. It was October 4th, and at the 107th edition of the Giro di Lombardia Vincenzo Nibali rode into Como alone, having been alone for some 16km since his attack on the Civiglio climb.

The Italian announcer was yelling as the Italian champion rode across the line, arms in the air, in Italy. A very Italian scene, and the first time a home rider had won the race (or any other Monument for that matter) since Damiano Cunego’s triumph all the way back in 2008.

The 2016 edition of the Giro di Lombardia is a long way away, but the other great Italian Classic is almost upon us. In fact it’s on Saturday, though everybody is already aware of that. One thing you perhaps aren’t aware of is the similar drought suffered by the Italians at La Classicissima di primavera.

Once upon a time, home domination was expected, with names like Girardegno, Binda, Bartali and Coppi filling the roll of honour during the first half of the 1900s. More recently Cipollini, Bettini and Petacchi joined the list, with Filippo Pozzato the last man from the Peninsula to cross the line first, back in 2006.

And now? The Italians are enduring their longest dry spell since the 1960s.

With 61 Italians lining up at the start in Milan, let’s assess the chances of those having dreams of spraying the Prosecco on the final podium.

Vincenzo Nibali ends
Vincenzo Nibali ends seven years of Italian hurt in Lombardia last October (Cor Vos)

First up, it’s the star man – certainly the biggest star in Italian cycling, anyway.  The race wasn’t originally part of Vincenzo Nibali’s plans for 2016, but he’ll be there, back for the ninth time.

He’s fresh from finishing sixth in a neutered Tirreno-Adriatico, and will have a point to prove having been taken out of contention for victory by the cancellation of stage five. And just as the lack of hills hindered him in The Race of the Two Seas, it is likely that he’ll have the same problem here – Nibali will be hard pushed to replicate his podium finish back in 2012.

Lampre-Merida, the last remaining Italian WorldTour team, come to the race with an all-Italian line-up, and they have some interesting options to choose from. Davide Cimolai was eighth last year, but you would always bet on him getting burned by the likes of Alexander Kristoff and Peter Sagan in a sprint finish.

Puncheur Diego Ulissi is another decent outsider, but once again there are better options, and a huge dose of luck would be needed for second-class sprinter Sacha Modolo (fourth in 2010) to prevail. Barring a big crash somewhere in the finale, don’t expect a Lampre winner in Sanremo.

One man who they will regret having to let go over the winter is 22-year-old Niccolò Bonifazio. He sprinted to a surprise fifth here last year but will ride in support of Fabian Cancellara over at Trek-Segafredo this time around. He’ll be right up there again should the Swiss veteran falter though.

Paris - Nice 2015 Stage - 1
Could the young Bonifazio make a step up from last year’s fifth place? (Cor Vos)

Sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo is another backup plan for the cosmopolitan team, but he’s more frequently seen on the second and third steps of the podium, rather than the first. The versatile Fabio Felline belongs in the same category.

Now at this point understand that we are already plumbing the depths of implausibility. Things aren’t looking good. Scanning the startlist, there are only five other men who have finished in the top ten.

First up we have the last Italian to win the race, Southeast-Venezuela’s Filippo Pozzato. He finished sixth here in 2012 and hasn’t won a race since 2013, so extrapolate from that what you will. Edit – His teammate, the 21-year-old sprinter Jakub Mareczko is certainly a name to remember for the future. Then there’s Daniele Bennati, who is 35 and will be riding firmly in support of Peter Sagan.

Fourth in both 1995 (!) and 2008, 44-year-old Davide freakin Rebellin is riding here for the first time in seven years. He is certainly not going to win but admit it, it’d be pretty hilarious if he did, right?­ BMC’s Daniel Oss has finished ninth here before but will be supporting the in-form Greg Van Avermaet’s bid for victory.

Next up, we come to Sonny Colbrelli of Bardiani-CSF – the other team with an all-Italian contingent. Sixth here two years ago, he’s one of several Italians in the group of not-quite elite sprinters. Still, he’s obviously in strong form, winning the GP Lugano two weeks ago, so a top five placing wouldn’t be a surprise – Bonifazio did the same last year remember.

Onto the other Italian ProContinental team next, and it’s Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec. Once upon a time, a line-up of Franco Pellizotti, Francesco Gavazzi and Francesco Chicchi would have been an interesting proposition here, but not anymore.

Etixx-QuickStep count punchy fighter Gianluca Brambilla, who had a great race at Strade Bianche, and fastman Matteo Trentin among their ranks. Both ride in support of Tom Boonen and Fernando Gaviria at Etixx-QuickStep, but should be strong enough to provide alternative options if the main men falter

Lastly, pure sprinter Elia Viviani will be riding as back-up for Geraint Thomas, Michał Kwiatkowski and Ben Swift at Team Sky. He has yet to prove he can handle the race though, finishing 108th on two occasions in the past. Salvatore Puccio finished twelfth in the 2012 edition.

tob15 s3 sweetspot (2) viviani
Viviani eases to the win at last year’s Tour of Britain but his odds of victory on Saturday are much longer (SweetSpot)

Honestly, I would be surprised if the duck is broken on Saturday. Several Italians are better suited to the race than Vincenzo Nibali, but frankly lack his talent.

At the moment the country has no riders that match up to sprinters and classics men like Kristoff, Van Avermaet, Sagan or Cancellara, and it looks like it would take a large slice of luck for any Italian to best them on Saturday.

There are some positive signs for the future though – most notably Bonifazio. The youngster has already proven that he can compete in the longest race on the calendar and knows the finale as well as anyone – he lives in Diana Marina, just down the coast from Sanremo and situated among the Capi climbs.

If any of this gang of outsiders can end the Sanremo drought this year, I’m going with him as the man most likely.

 


 

ANDRONI GIOCATTOLI-SIDERMEC
Giorgio Cecchinel, Francesco Chicchi, Marco Frapporti
Francesco Gavazzi, 
Franco Pellizotti, Mirko Selvaggi, Davide Viganò

ASTANA
Valerio Agnoli, Eros Capecchi, Vincenzo Nibali

BARDIANI-CSF
Simone Andreetta, Enrico Barbin, Nicola Boem, Mirco Maestri
Sonny Colbrelli, Stefano Pirazzi, Marco Rota, Alessandro Tonelli

BMC RACING
Damiano Caruso, Alessandro De Marchi
Daniel Oss, Manuel Quinziato

BORA-ARGON 18
Cesare Benedetti

CANNONDALE PRO CYCLING
Alan Marangoni, Moreno Moser

CCC SPRANDI POLKOWICE
Simone Ponzi, Davide Rebellin

DIMENSION DATA
Kristian Sbaragli

ETIXX-QUICKSTEP
Gianluca Brambilla, Fabio Sabatini, Matteo Trentin

KATUSHA
Jacopo Guarnieri

LAMPRE-MERIDA
Matteo Bono, Davide Cimolai, Matteo Cattaneo, Roberto Ferrari
Sacha Modolo, Manuele Mori, Diego Ulissi, Federico Zurlo

LOTTONL-JUMBO
Enrico Battaglin

MOVISTAR
Giovanni Visconti

NOVO NORDISK
Andrea Peron

SKY
Salvatore Puccio, Elia Viviani

SOUTHEAST-VENEZUELA
Manuel Belletti, Samuele Conti, Andrea Fedi
Jakub Mareczko, Filippo Pozzato, Mirko Tedeschi

TINKOFF
Daniele Bennati, Manuele Boaro
Oscar Gatto, Matteo Tosatto

TREK-SEGAFREDO
Eugenio Alafaci, Niccolò Bonifazio
Marco Coledan, Fabio Felline, Giacomo Nizzolo

Race to the Snow?

Mont Brouilly - France - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Rowe Luke (GBR / Team Sky) - Koen De Kort (Netherlands / Team Giant - Alpecin)  Race cancelled because bad weather - snow - dangerous illustration - sfeer - illustratie Illustration picture of the peloton Landscape Bunch Postcard  during the stage 3 of the 74th Paris - Nice cycling race, a stage of 168 kms with start in Cusset and finish in Mont Brouilly, France  - photo VK/PN/or Vos © 2016
Riding through the snow at Paris-Nice (Cor Vos)

What exactly is the Extreme Weather Protocol?

Stage three of Paris-Nice saw the UCI’s new Extreme Weather Protocol (EWP) put into use for the first time at a major race. The 165km stage from Cusset to Mont Brouilly was halted for good after 93km, having been neutralised some 20km earlier with the intention of restarting at 40km to go.

The reason was, of course, the heavy snow falling – conditions that made any form of safe racing impossible. With several similar incidents affecting races over the last few years it was refreshing to see decisive action taken with rider safety in mind, despite the predictable outcry from some fans harking back to the days of Hampsten and Hinault.

Milano-Sanremo was famously halted due to snow in 2013, before racing resumed with 145km to go. The following year saw more confusing outcomes when the weather turned bad, with snow on the Stelvio during a controversial Giro stage, and the peloton weaving through fallen trees at a wind-swept stage of the Tour de Pologne.

There are many more examples to cite, and all have contributed to the introduction of this new rule. It has been over a year since it was first seriously mooted, partly thanks to the efforts of the Association of North American Pro Road Cyclists (ANAPRC).

So, now that the EWP is here, what exactly does the regulation entail? You can find a copy of the rule on the UCI website. It’s a pretty simple document, certainly when compared to the rough proposals we have heard about before – the ANAPRC once proposed specific cutoff temperatures that would trigger a plan B, for instance.

In essence, the regulation stipulates that a meeting between the major stakeholders (members of the organisation such as doctors and commissaires, as well as rider and team representatives) must be convened if extreme weather conditions are anticipated during the day’s stage. The conditions in question include:

weather conditions

Other weather conditions will also be considered – these are examples given by the regulation. In the event of conditions such as these, any of the following actions will be considered:

actions

The remainder of the regulation is concerned with defining who comprises the ‘stakeholders’, followed by an interesting footnote which specifies that the rule will be applied in accordance with article 2.2.029bis.

2.2.029bis mentions that the EWP will be enforced in WorldTour and HC-ranked races, but makes no mention of women’s races or .1 and .2 ranked races. However, last month we saw the EWP debut at the Clásica de Almería, so it seems possible that the regulation will be applied at all levels.

It’s a very simple piece of legislation, perhaps overly so. Sure, there’s a meeting before the race to discuss potential action, but what happens in the event of a sudden change in conditions (as we saw in Poland)? One presumes that further conversations between the noted parties take place as the situation develops – but then isn’t that how things have always been?

Additionally, there is no mention of what would happen should all parties be unable to reach a consensus over how to proceed with the race. To give one hypothetical – organisers of smaller races could be keen to push ahead in borderline conditions as riders object.

Then there’s the question of how feasible the proposed actions actually are. Actions such as modifying and rerouting the course can sometimes be impossible, especially at such short notice. Does this mean that races will have backup routes and alternative finishes in place? It’s unlikely given the organisational burden, but again it’s another detail that isn’t mentioned.

Martello/Martelltal - Italy - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - illustration - illustratie on the Stelvio Climb - left with green helmet Wilco Kelderman (Ned - Belkin-Pro Cycling Team) pictured during Giro-D'Itaia 2014 stage 16 from Ponte di Legno - Val Martello/Martelltal 139km - photo LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2014
Miserable conditions on the Stelvio during the 2014 Giro d’Italia (Cor Vos, also header image)

As with all new rules, the beginnings will always be somewhat shaky. In Almería there was misunderstanding over the period of neutralisation, while at Paris-Nice there were complaints about the lack of an alternate route, as well as the tardiness in making a decision about the race.

Despite these teething problems the rule is a good start. Finally introducing an entry to the rulebook is a positive step to introduce some accountability and ensure rider safety. Surely over time the EWP will be fleshed out to avoid the impromptu decision-making we continue to see and further improve the sport. It’s an issue that will always be mired in argument but headway is being made.