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Let’s Play ‘Design the Next Great Classic’!

Oh Noes! There’s a (fictional) sudden hole in the cycling calendar! Can you be the hero and fill it?

Gulf of Naples: Cycling playground?
Giacopo Raule, Getty

There’s a popular Twitter pic of Giacomo Nizzolo climbing up some cobbles in Sicily, with the tag Ronde van Sicilia, and as you can imagine that got my mind going. CN’s Gregor Brown piled on with a tweet about needing a Sicilian classic. Now I was in full roar. We need more classics. Everywhere.

Trek-Segafredo were in Sicily, staying at a golf resort on the north side of Mount Etna, and showed off a few of the classic-style roads there:

That’s dope, but it takes more than an uphill stretch of (shamefully orderly) cobbles to launch the next great classic. It takes time, money, interest and opportunity. It takes the right combination of roads and landscapes to attract the necessary fan attention. It takes... YOU.

Let’s Design a Classic

I have an idea brewing about a really great classic race, but before getting to that, let’s talk about what it would take to design the next great classic. I can think of some factors, but feel free to add to the list. The obvious one is a hole in the calendar, and that currently might not exist, depending on whom you ask, but in playing this game let’s just pretend there is one, right where you want it to be. Beyond that, however, let’s try to be a bit realistic.

  • A Story to Tell: Classics all have something to say about the place where they happen. The most enduring ones tell cultural tales from a century ago, so it gets harder in present times, but Strade Bianche is an example of one that you can convey compellingly in less than a sentence.
  • To Monument or Not? Whatever course you design has to be one the riders will take to. 200km is the easiest distance to sell, even if it’s a hard 200k. Longer than that, I dunno.
  • Wait, where? In addition to course design, you should probably pick a place that people want to be in. The Ronde van Albania might look better on paper than in real life. The Ronde van Washington State is possibly a bit too far from Europe.
  • Show Me the Money! If possible, think of a reason why sponsorship could happen in your dream classic scenario.
  • Forget Belgium. Every inch of Belgium is already a classic. In fact, they have to re-run them in summer to meet the demand for Belgianness, but without any available roads for a different race, they just keep recycling the Tour of Flanders or Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Give it a rest.

OK, that’s just a few basic parameters. Here’s my entry.

Giro di Napoli

Remember Roma Maxima? Of course you do, centurion. We talk about it at the Cafe on a weekly basis, because it was a really cool race for cycling/history geeks. But it went nowhere, even with a foundation as the Giro del Lazio. It was a race ahead of its time. And also about 150 miles north of its time.

The problem with Roma Maxima is that it has no natural sponsors. Who wants to draw attention and tourists to Rome? Nobody, least of all the Romans, who if anything might like to blow up the Colosseum so they could get a few moments of peace and quiet. The story of the Roman Empire is even more worn out than the passageways of the Colosseum. I love Rome, but nobody will be paying money to indulge me on that.

Naples is an entirely different story, literally. It’s one of the world’s oldest constantly-inhabited cities, dating back from 2000 BC, and it’s the cultural capital of the Mezzogiorno (south), a mix of ancient Greek and other plunderings with a distinctly Italian accent to it all. In modern Europe it has a unique regional identity to display, not unlike the Strade Bianche, and a tourist market to sell, at least for Naples itself. It gets a little tricky with the surrounding areas of Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast, which is already pummeled by relentless tourism, so my classic will have to tread carefully. But the city itself would love to shed its reputation as a dangerous place, and that alone might be enough to foot the bill. [Insert various caveats about how out of my depth I am here.]

Here is my first effort. I am a little rushed at the moment, and will tinker with this a bit more. It’s probably not hitting enough of the highlights and I need to chop at least 30km from it, though that’s easy enough.

Napoli Classic

Distance: 266km (too long, but I can chop out some flats)

Elevation Gain: 4,728 meters (!)

Date: Early-mid spring

Awesomeness: So much awesomeness:

  • A rollout from Piazza del Plebescito, a grand square in the historic center of Naples which is close to the shore roads that exit the city quickly and simply enough.
  • A ride past Vesuvius. Another version could use the volcano more, but I’ll have to see if there is a way to go up without going all the way up. Oh, and Pompeii and Herculaneum are cool but I’m not sure there is much to do with them at a bike race. So skip those.
  • Out to Avellino. Campania is loaded with great cycling terrain, at least once you get away from the city. The devil would be in the road condition details, but hey, maybe a race could bring some needed resurfacing improvements to the surrounding area?
  • South, over more hills, back to the beach. A mix of the two characters of the region, its busy shore and its quiet hill country.
  • Up to the Amalfi Coast. Too great to miss.
  • Finish in Sorrento. I dunno about this part. Sorrento is big and beautiful enough to end a race there, but the need might not exist. With some rerouting you could end on Vesuvio, or come back to Naples, but the views from Sorrento are unbelievable.

I’ll stand by this as having the terrain for a fantastic race, though after that it gets murky. What say ye? I can imagine classics in various parts of the British Isles, Switzerland or southern France, Vienna, and probably a bunch more places. Get to work people!