Friday, March 15, 2013

Is Milano-Sanremo really a sprinters race?

In modern times this race has been billed as the "sprinters' classic," despite it having a series of sharp hills near the finish. This, after nearly 300 km of racing. Whether MSR comes down a field sprint is itself a difficult question to answer.

Curious to see whether and  how the sprinters' grip has strengthened, we look at whether the race ends in a sprint, starting from the 1960 edition to recent years. Which by the way, we don't view as having ended in a field sprint due to a very splintered front group. After some tweaking, we ended up with the following plot.

Does Milan-Sanremo end in a field sprint?

We put a special mark on the 1982 edition. At the time the organizers thought that the race was becoming too predictable, as everybody tended to wait for the final hill Poggio to make their move. So they added a capo called Cipressa prior to the Poggio. Such as the impact of this hill that the 1982 edition saw a French newbie Marc Gomez outdistance another French rider Alain Bondue to take the crown of Sanremo, both having formed a suicidal breakaway hundreds of kilometers from the finish. And for the next 15 years, the sprinters lost their grasp on the race.
Does Milan-Sanremo tend to be controlled up to the end of the Poggio?  
The sprinters' teams once again ruled supreme with the rise of Erik Zabel's Army of Magenta (Team Telekom) in 1997. It is clear that the tendency of MSR being a controlled race as it enters Via Roma has increased significantly in modern times. That is, since Erik Zabel and his T-Mobile Army of Magenta started to rule with an iron fist. That is, since the modern sprinters' train was invented.

However, this tendency is not nearly absolute. Andrei Tchmil surprised the sprinters' trains by a final km attack in 2000. Paolo Bettini and his cohort of Italian pocket-rockets attacked repeatedly both on the Cipressa and the Poggio in 2003 to break the linebackers. Pippo Pozzato took advantage of team dynamics to blitz in 2006, similar to how Fabian Cancellara took advantage of a road closure in 2008. Last year, weather wreaked havoc and we ended with a splintered front group.

What is certain is this: since 1997, the race has almost surely been controlled up to the finishing straight, that is, up to the end of capo Poggio. Notably, the last man to be able to break off the peloton's stranglehold on an uphill and stay on to win was Paolo Bettini in 2003.

Given this analysis, the race has tended in favor of late attackers if not pure sprinters. These are men like Fabian Cancellara, a daring Tom Boonen, a patient Philippe Gilbert, or a lucky Peter Sagan. And by the way, for a very rich historical recount of MSR, we highly recommend the Milan-Sanremo UK website.

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