Why I Look Past Pais Vasco

Apr 14 2009

photo by flickr ryoichitanaka under cc-deed-2.0Now that I’ve gotten some sleep in lieu of videomaking, I’ve been trying to get my head around why I can’t get into these little baby stage races. Maybe it’s because they’re so anonymous—I mean, from Ruta del Sol onward, it’s just 5-day races with roughly three flat stages, two climbs and a time trial at the end.

This is very similar to my criticism of the Ardennes classics, at least after Amstel was revamped to have a stupid uphill finish—you’ve seen one, and you’ve (almost) seen them all. That’s what makes the Cobbles Week classics so interesting: they’ve each got their own unique character. The Ronde has those steep cobbled climbs, Wevelgem has the death-defying descent and looming threat of a group sprint if riders aren’t aggressive, and Roubaix is, well, Roubaix.

But I think what really irritates me about these little stage races is that they’ve become tune-ups for the Grand Tours. Paris-Nice used to be something that all the riders battled after full-gas—Anquetil attacked Poulidour 38 times in a single stage in his attempts to win in ’66, and Poulidor set a Col de Turbie record record that would last a decade to clip Eddy Merckx in 1971. Now it’s “form not bad, time trial average“.

I’m not denying the supremacy of the Grand Tours—obviously, I’d rather have a single Giro or Tour than an epic string of Paris-Nices (isn’t that right, Sean?), but I can’t help but feel the emphasis on them is based largely on marketability. In the controlled, tactical conditions of 20-day long races on smooth, American-style roads, you can make ludicrous claims about product impacts on overall victory.

On the chaos of the cobbles, it’s harder to make such idiotic statements, which is probably why Velonews’ only video from Cobbles Week is a glorified advertisement for Specialized instead of anything having to do with the racing and tactics from (IMHO) the best races in the world.

So yeah—I’m not all that into the short stage races. Tune-up events shouldn’t be placed on the same page with races where a victory makes a career, especially when those career-making events end up taking a back seat to journos hocking bikes made in the same Taiwanese factory as everyone else’s.

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