Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Milan-Sanremo versus Liége-Bastogne-Liége

In modern times, Milan-Sanremo (MSR) is often billed as the sprinters' classic while Liége-Bastogne-Liége (LBL) is often billed as the climbers' classic. Naturally, our curiosity leads us to examine the parcours of these two races. Are the labels really justified?

We start with a coarse look at the corsa of MSR and parcour of LBL. Both races are very long: MSR is nearly 300 km long and LBL is around 280 km. What we have done is very crude image manipulation: we stretch both horizontal and vertical axes (after eyeballing) such that they are both on the same scale. We apply guidelines to calibrate based on the highest peak of these races: Col du Rosier at 565 meters.

Milan-Sanremo versus Liége-Bastogne-Liége, a coarse look.
Clearly, MSR starts with a rather pleasant jaunt southward from Milan, on very flat grounds too. A gentle slope brings one up to Passo del Turcino where the day's long break traditionally forms. By contrast, LBL starts nearly immediately with vertical challenges. The profile flattens after 40 km or so, and then there is a series of sharp hills nearly non-stop from Bastogne up to Liége.

A much closer look at the last 50 km is very revealing. Taken individually, the capi of MSR are nearly as challenging as the cotes of LBL. But both the finishing profile (downhill-and-straight in MSR versus uphill in LBL) and the spacing of these climbs matter. Add to this the daredevil downhill profile in MSR, which equalizes things a bit.
Milan-Sanremo versus Liége-Bastogne-Liége, a closer look. 
With this analysis we think it makes sense that many contenders of LBL also dream of glory in MSR. Some have succeeded: Eddy Merckx (7x MSR and 5x LBL) and Paolo Bettini (1x MSR and 2x LBL) come to mind. That success spanning both races is rare today is what we will examine in a future post.

Stay tuned for further analysis and a Milan-Sanremo race preview coming soon.

What do you think of this comparison?

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