Call him a student of the sport. Call him an opportunist. Call him a bike racer.
Taylor Phinney just wants to race the original Milano-Sanremo parcours. And why wouldn’t he? The BMC Racing rider rattled the peloton’s collective cage at the monument in 2013, when he struck off on his own after the Poggio descent and nearly bridged to the lead group. He finished seventh on that miserable, ice-blasted day.
Given all the talk of changing up the parcours this year, and the attempted inclusion of a new climb, the Pompeiana, it appeared the race would pan out for better climbers than the traditional type of rider to win Sanremo: crafty, beastly strong. There was chatter on Tuesday that the route would again change, due to rain and flooding concerns.
Phinney told VeloNews over the weekend he hoped to line up and give the original route a spin.
“I’m super exited to do the original course. I think it’s gonna be probably the only time in my career that — based on how much they’ve been trying to change it over the past couple years — I think it’ll be the only time in my career that I’ve had the opportunity to do the original parcours,” he said. “I’m really excited about that. That’s special. That’s what my dad raced on. That’s what my team directors have raced on. That’s the Milano-Sanremo that I grew up knowing and loving. So it’s exciting for me.”
Of course the flatter route favors the American diesel engine over that of a punchier course. This is the same guy who held off a charging peloton last year at the Tour of Poland with a muscle-torching late attack. With 4km to go, Phinney had 15 seconds in hand. He held off the wolves to win by 50 meters. Clearly, it’s in his vested interests to race the flatter route. Phinney said as much.
“It also plays to one of my strengths, with the climbing that isn’t focused right at the end. We have a super-strong team. It’s definitely quite the motivator this year. And I love Milan-San Remo. I put it second on my list of favorite races, to Paris-Roubaix. There’s something special about it. I was really excited when they announced they couldn’t go on that Pompeiana climb. I thought it was a bit like the cycling gods righting some injustices,” Phinney said.
Those “wrongs” are probably “right” depending on whom one asks, but there is an unmistakable trend occurring in pro cycling: organizers are eager to break up the formula of a big sprint with more animated races . That has come at a high price to some, who feel like there aren’t enough chances for the sprinters.
“If you wanna watch a classic, or a monument, that’s [for] climbers, watch Amstel Gold. Watch Liège. But you don’t need to turn Milan-San Remo into Liège,” Phinney said. “How far can you go past Pompeiana? Maybe in 10 years we’re riding to Sestriere and back. I understand from the entertainment side of things, you put those in the race and they are going to add to the excitement, but a race like Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne this year, the last climb was like 90k from the finish, and you still had like 10 dudes and an exciting race.
It’s the riders that make the races. It’s not necessarily the climbs. Especially if you make it too hard; you could even see the opposite of what the organizers would want.”
Indeed, his comment rings true with some others, too. In an interview in Oman with VeloNews, Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) wondered what, exactly, organizers were thinking.
“I don’t know, to be honest I don’t know what they’re doing. They’re trying to make every race harder and more spectacular and all this crap. I’m still going to ride San Remo, but…they just want to make it hard,” Haussler said before the route swap.
Sunday is going to be hard no matter what. It’s now just going to be whose definition of hard it is.