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  • 08.10.14

    Weekly Wibble: This Isn't The End

    Stuff and nonsense from the week in cycling. October 8: The ebbing prestige of Paris-Tours, Philippe Gilbert's first Classic and a cyclo-cross prodigy.

    Words
    Andy McGrath
    Photographs
    Offside-LeEquipe

Racing cyclist Dan Martin winning the Giro di Lomdardia 2014
Dan Martin realises the significance of his Lombardia win: first across the line means first into Bergamo McDonald's

Last Sunday, 150 champagne corks simultaneously popped while team buses raced to the Bergamo branch of McDonald’s to start their charges on a few weeks of maniac binging on fast food and booze before having to live like ascetics again. Who will be first to get their chops round a Big Mac? It’s nearly as hard-fought as the race itself.

A lot of folk agree with the demob-happy riders that Il Lombardia (Is that what the kids are calling it? Where did the ‘Giro di’ bit go? We don’t like change here, we’re still not used to Opal Fruits becoming Starbust) is the end of the season.

Just like the season beginning is completely subjective depending on your tribe –Tour Down Under for Aussies, Het Nieuwsblad for traditionalists, Etoile de Bessèges for flaneurs – it’s hard to know where it truly ends. The Tour of Beijing? The Chrono des Nations? It’s funny: everyone seems to anticipate the Tour Down Under for months, then is overly keen to announce the end of the cycling season.

Hold your horses and off-season hedonism, it’s not over yet. Announcing a premature close of play is doing a disservice to one of the sport’s oldest races and the last Classic of the season, Paris-Tours, which takes place on Sunday. Mind, that’s no different to some of the biggest WorldTour teams. Team Sky, Katusha, Movistar, Astana and Orica-GreenEdge are all missing this fantastic, complex French race.

Paris-Tours, which has changed name nearly as many times as Prince, was a big deal until very recently. The spiteful little hills in the countryside around Tours encourage attacks, and the final two kilometres – albeit, now 600 metres – down the dead-straight Avenue de Grammont used to play host to the tense break-versus-bunch finale, the TV camera foreshortening the action to make it appear even closer.

But what’s a well-balanced race, 100-plus years of history and a stacked palmarès these days if the race isn’t in the WorldTour? Not a lot. Nowadays, points mean power and, increasingly, prestige.  

In truth, this is raging against the dying of the light. The key moment came when Paris-Tours was mystifyingly downgraded from the ProTour to the Europe Tour ahead of the 2009 season. That’s more down to the governing body than the teams or riders: if they don’t have to ride Paris-Tours at the end of an exhausting season, why should they?

So, instead of the WorldTour Ranking – which, let’s face it, is about as useful and relevant as a chocolate saddle in a Vuelta heatwave – being decided at glorious Lombardia or downtown Tours, it’s off to Beijing for a farewell to a failed event, where riders choke on polluted air and have to wait five hours at the airport for their impounded bicycles.

It may carry the ranking points, but we all know which one really matters more: the true sprinter’s classic, the one that eluded the great Eddy Merckx and launched Philippe Gilbert’s career. Organised by ASO, Paris-Tours’s existence, at least, seems safe – and if the UCI’s plans to include it in its second division hierarchy in 2017 are anything to go by, due a rebirth – but its precious prestige continues to ebb away for now.

Anyway, the season goes on. At the end of October, there’s the Japan Cup and the Saitama criterium, a moneyed circuit race – also organised by ASO – which is an excuse for Vincenzo Nibali to cross the line first in his yellow jersey and get laughed at for wearing a sumo nappy (evidence: Chris Froome last year).

But the actual end of the calendar? Spare a thought for those poor souls racing the Vuelta a Costa Rica (December 14-25), lined out in the gutter on the final day while the rest of us open presents (Socks? Again? You shouldn’t have), drink our body weights in sherry and watch The Great Escape for the twentieth year in a row. Now there’s another good formula that shouldn’t be tampered with.

STAT’S THE WAY, UH HUH UH HUH

1 – Number of times a Portuguese rider has finished on the podium of a Monument, thanks to Rui Costa’s third place in Il Lombardia.

19 years 10 months – Age of Mathieu van der Poel, who won the Superprestige cyclo-cross opener in Gieten. Prodigy.

YOUTUBE THROWBACK

Philippe Gilbert’s first Classic win, 2008 Paris-Tours.

 

World cramp-ion Michal Kwiatkowski going backwards at a rate of knots at Lombardia.

 

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