MSR, old school.
I like saying Poggio. I feel stylish and Italian and worldy in a bike racing way. I like saying La Primavera and La Classicisimma especially when I deliver that poetry while holding a cappuccino.
I go into some kind of cycling history dream state of revelry when I say Cipressa and Via Roma. Which sound even better over a glass of Barolo or Chianti or Sangiovese. I like Italian women with high heels and bright red lipstick and short skirts — who attend bike races.
That all sounds fantastic but in truth Milan-San Remo is a bit of a bore. It’s the classic for the sprinters and I’d rather watch guys pound over the cobblestones or marvel at the skinny climbers tackling insane summit climbs while I wait for their legs and hearts to explode.
Milan-San Remo is just a small bowl of gelato when I want something far more substantial. It’s light entertainment when what I need drama, bloodshed, relentless attacks, epic battles in the mountains.
And maybe that was true once upon a time before EPO and modern training regimes when a few moderate climbs sorted out the bunch. Back in the days of Coppi, practically before I was born.
Nowadays, well, those are to quote somebody, just mere speed bumps, taken at ripping speeds, dropping almost nobody.
Yeah, sure, that last 10-15 K can be exciting but the first 280 something is an extend yawn. Which probably makes me a half a cycling fan, someone unable to appreciate the subtleties of Milan-San Remo, the long, drawn out tease, the tactical chess along the way.
Maybe I’m just not the audience — wife, two kids, full time job, aging parents — I simply don’t have the leisure time for 5 hours of dull set-up. I want to fall in love with Milan San Remo but she keeps making it difficult.
A few years ago when they’d made plans to install a new climb, Pompeiana, I was fully on-board. Then bad weather and potholes removed that climb before the race even began. Even Le Mànie has been excluded — what, it sounds too French?
Back to my yawn. And now, the race is full retro, which is great if you’re doing a gran fondo but for a monument, you’re getting pretty dusty. Why not just insist the riders use steel frame bikes and old campy components and wear wool jerseys? Maybe have everyone smoke a few cigarettes along the way just to enforce the mood. In essence, MSR basically functions as a high speed version of L’ Eroica.
We’re not arguing against the rich, luxurious tapestry of pro cycling. Farmers are still unearthing sections of cobblestones in Northern France. Every great race has a set of iconic scenes, obstacles, mountain passes, churches, chateaux, town squares, the start and finish towns. Paris-Roubaix is nothing if not throwback, a dinosaur, a willfully abusive test from another era when coal miners liked their heroes black and blue and half dead.
Maybe we should just accept that in a digital age where entertainment is a constant 24/7 sensory experience, Milan San Remo says no, sorry, we don’t prostitue our race to make it “TV friendly” for a young audience that needs constant visual stimulation. You have to respect that those standards and buy into a different kind of story. Then again, look at pro football versus pro baseball. On every single play in football, 22 violent men are trying to kill each other. On the other hand, baseball is all about the slow build with the emphasis on glacial.
Or consider ballet and hip hop dance, one conceived in a different time, the other a direct response to our modern, percussive, kinetic lifestyle. You wanna to watch the graceful swan in the pink slippers or the hot girl, running thru every stripper pole, sex club move she can thrust out in four minutes dancing to a bad-ass rap track? Well, uhh, we’re not watching the swan.
So there you go: I’m bored with 185 kilometers of Milan San Remo and I’m thrilled with the last 15 kilometers of Milan San-Remo. Somehow, that’s not a good ratio.