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Jury still out on modified Milano-Sanremo route

MILAN (VN) — There is an uneasy feeling heading into the winter and toward 2014’s first big classic, Milano-Sanremo. Not that long ago, organizer RCS Sport announced a serious re-route and rendered its beloved Classica di Primavera harder than ever with a five-kilometer climb.

Along with the Cipressa and Poggio climbs in the final 40km, the riders will now have to bite into a sandwich that includes Pompeiana. It is great for locals because instead of walking down 5km to the Riviera they can let the race come to them. To accommodate the change, RCS Sport cut out Le Mànie, which was introduced in 2008 and came early into the 300km race.

From a 1:500,000 view, the parcours looks similar. Zoom in, however, and in Riva Ligura you see the course turning away from the Mediterranean Sea and right off of the SS1. The road ramps up immediately, passes the 850 or so residents in Pompeiana, and keeps going. The worst bits are after the town, where the road kicks up to 14 percent. It levels off towards Castellero, descends to the coast, and continues on its historical course to the Poggio, where the damage will be felt.

What will surely create a show for Pompeiana locals and for TV audiences worldwide March 23 is raising skeptics’ eyebrows. Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard), who already has Sanremo, Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), and Paris-Roubaix victories on his palmarès, sounded concerned when RCS Sport announced its plans on September 10.

“Milano-Sanremo will be harder and maybe become more of a show for those watching TV,” Cancellara told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “I don’t understand this tendency to make races harder.”

Concern over Sanremo has been simmering steadily while cycling enjoyed its world championships and welcomed a new president. Now with the last of the races over, which included China’s Tours of Beijing and Hainan, there has been time for proper reflection.

Italy’s leading cycling magazine, Tutto Bici, published an opinion piece titled “Voto No alla Nuova Sanremo,” or “A No Vote for the New Sanremo.”

“It’s one of the family jewels, one of the few and one of the last,” wrote Cristiano Gatti over a week ago. “It’s a jewel because it’s different from all the other races thanks to its long, dull hours on the Riviera, for its unpredictability on the Poggio and for those truly thrilling ten minutes from the top of the Poggio to the finish line.”

Gatti noted those who call the race foolish or a lottery. “These defects, however, are its qualities and make it unique in the world of cycling. There’s no other one like it. And yet, what do we want to do, make it just like all the other races? To find the most complete and strongest rider, we already have a healthy list of races from Lombardia to Liège, from Ronde to Roubaix. Can we not just have one day of madness in the year?”

Regardless, teams are preparing for the new Sanremo. Lampre-Merida sent former pro and technical assistant Marco Marzano to have a look. His opinion that Pompeiana makes the race harder prompted Lampre to back its new rider, world champion Rui Costa.

And exactly what worries Gatti and Cancellara pleases others. Philippe Gilbert and his BMC Racing teammate Thor Hushovd rode from their base in Monaco to preview the climb. After seeing it, Gilbert, who has twice placed third in the race (2008, 2011), said the race now suits him even more and that he would base his spring campaign on the new Milano-Sanremo.

Like all of Sanremo’s changes — remember, the Cipressa was added as late as 1982 — time will tell whether or not RCS Sport made a good call.