Roma Maxima! The Ultimate Preview

Public Domain, via http://www.wpclipart.com/

People say Cycling has its troubles but clearly things are going in the right direction. For tomorrow, the horrible burden of being associated with the word La... I can't say it. OK... Lazio -- starting tomorrow, that word will be expunged from our great sport, in a move so awesome it can only be replaced with the ultimate, most powerful and glorious name possible... ROMA MAXIMA!

Starting tomorrow is really an entirely new event for the cycling calendar. It's being spun as the revival of the Giro del Lazio, but that's purely window dressing. The name is new, the course is new, and the Giro del Lazio hasn't taken place since 2008. But RCS, owners of the Giro d'Italia and everything else really huge in Italian cycling, don't want to call it a new event per se, so there you go.

The story, so far, is the parcours, which will take in the Forum, end at the Colosseum, and bits of the Via Appia, a Roman road that dates back to 312 B.C. RCS honcho Michele Acquarone, whose tenure at the head of the Giro has become synonymous with creative course designs, tweeted this video:

MVI 004 (via zappacerisola daniela)

Roma Mazxima doesn't just become a race, it immediately vaults to the top of the list of worst roads in all of cycling. The devil will be in the details, like if the metal fencing is set back enough (or nonexistent) to allow the riders to use the dirt path on the margins, but anyone caught out of position and forced over those stones is in for a wild ride. The duration of the cobbled stretches is another matter. Those ancient stretches are likely pretty short, but the route has its share of more familiar pavé. Stefano Pirazzi of Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox, being a Roman, drew the short straw and had to ride the course, cars and all, for our enjoyment:

Discovering the route of Roma Maxima with Stefano Pirazzi (via Bardiani Valvole CSF Inox)

Some nasty bits of climbing in there. My favorite, from a distance, is the Rocca di Papa/Campi di Annibale, an ancient village with some narrow, lumpy 10% approaches to a town named partly after Hannibal and partly after Pope Eugene who lived there in the 12th century (and possibly after Francesco Rocca). Pirazzi climbs something that looks even worse than 10%, possibly in the approach to Rocca Massima, yet another long climb for this race.

Anyway, there's the Rocca di Papa (6km), the Rocca Massima (8km), the Rocca Priora 13km, and some climb called "Cappuccini" outside of Lake Albano. As my ancient Roman ancestor Sillius Sortus was know to say, oy vey! Or maybe it was HTFU. In any event, the sprinters are not expected to enjoy this day. Instead, it's likely to come down to climbers who can sprint, with an outside shot to sprinters who can climb. If climbing isn't on your resume, then enjoy the scenery and get ready for Tirreno-Adriatico on Tuesday.

The startlists are full of climbers. Carlos Betancur for AG2R, Miguel Angel Rubiano Chavez for Androni, Aru for Astana, Atapuma for Colombia, and so on, form the pint-sized armada revving up for tomorrow. But the real matter will be settled after a long descent and flat run-in to Rome, so the guys with the fast finish or the ability to attack on the flats, like Damiano Cunego, Alejandro Valverde and maybe Enrico Gasparotto or Oscar Gatto should be watched most carefully.

The real selling point of this race is history, however. In typical Acquaronian flair, the race begins and ends on the Via dei Fori Imperiali, sweeping past the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus just to make sure you get the message. The towns highlighted along the way are original Roman fortresses. Lake Albano was the resort of choice for Romans, and you got their the same way the cyclists will get back to Rome, on the Appian Way. If you love history, you might not even care who wins.

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