I’m writing something of more substance so this is just a quick post/info blast to get ready for the slate of mini-classics coming at us thick and fast this week, while the Bigs wait around for Milano-Sanremo...
What’s It About: A historic event connecting northern Italy’s two capital cities, Milan and Turin, Milano-Torino was founded by the Veloce Club Milano who dared eight of its members to race all the way to Turin, four of whom made it there, led by winner Paolo Magretti. And the club must have concluded that this was a stupid idea, because it took until 1894 until they could convince their members to reprise the event. After that, they continued to waffle over doing this, skipping multiple years, until it started getting serious in 1911 with the win of Henri Pelissier. They skipped one more year, then Costante Girardegno won in 1913, and now the race had an identity. It’s had several more breaks, most recently from 2008-2010, but in 146 years there have been 103 editions, so does that count as a continuous race? Debatable.
Who It Favors: Depends what year this is. For the world’s oldest semi-uninterrupted classic event (first run in 1876), it doesn’t seem to have a set pattern other than starting in Milan and ending somewhere around Turin. Which gives you options. Check out this year’s map:
The race stays mainly in the Po Valley, and can ride the flat terrain all the way to the finish if they want — and many editions have ended in a sprint, including last year’s race won by Mark Cavendish. But you can also swing into some foothills of the Italian Alps as this year’s course very nearly does. Or you can keep to the east and go through the hills of Monferrato, where the Superga is located and has often been used to shake up the race. Just two years ago the race finish, which gets moved around a lot (largely away from the urban center), was used as the finish line in an edition won by Primož Roglič. This year’s edition, however, seems fairly relaxed, with some small climbs in the final hour but the last one occurring 12km from the finish, followed by a gradual descent to the line. So yeah, sprinters.
Did You Know? The Milano-Torino (pictured above) is an historic cocktail, seemingly out of favor now but with some extended lineage dating back to the 1860s? The story is that one Gaspare Campari invented his famous Campari bitters — made from herbs (including chinotto, better known for combatting malaria and the crushed bodies of cochineal insects to give it a red color — and served it at his popular caffe in Milan, the Caffe Camparino. This was about a century after the Cinzano family founded their vermouth company in Torino. Campari decided to mix the two with a wedge of orange, and called it the Milano-Torino. It was something of a hit for a while, but then seems to have been overtaken by the Negroni, which is the same ingredients plus gin, as well as the Americano, which is the same ingredients plus soda. Cento anni!
Pick to Win: Cav is back to defend his title, but there are a few hotter hands there too, like Dylan Groenewegen, Fernando Gaviria, and some classics guys to shake things up. I’ll say Groany gets it.
Wednesday: Danilith Nokere Koerse
What’s It About: Warming up on the cobbles. This is both for the top guys getting ready for this year’s Ronde van Vlaanderen, and for riders in the pro conti world looking to make their name in the discipline for the long haul.
Who It Favors: Power sprinters. The race always ends in a bunch drag up the Nokereberg, which isn’t especially selective (350m at 5.7%) but you can see how cluttered with cobbles the local circuit is below (the orange part):
So it’s a hard, bumpy grind to even get to that last power drag up the hill into Nokere center.
Did You Know? The race was originally birthed in 1944 as the Grand Prix Jules Lowie, named after the local Nokerite cyclist whose career seems to be centered around winning Paris-Nice in 1938?
Pick to Win: Defending winner Tim Merlier feels like a prohibitive favorite, although maybe Edward Theuns or Sep Vanmarcke can pull off the upset. Or new kid Thibau Nys!
Thursday: GP de Denain Porte du Hainaut
What’s It About: Pavé! Which are just French cobbles, but it’s nice to mix things up some, amirite? This isn’t exactly a mini-Paris-Roubaix, but it’s not exactly not that either:
In the center of this horrendous map is a red dot indicating the city of Denain, which is just a few KM south of Wallers, which we all know as the place that put the “Hell” in the “Hell of the North.” The Green lap is the last one, and if you can spot the grey lines, then you can tell that this part of the course is busy with real pavé secteurs, including stuff like Quiévy and Quérénaing which are some of the earlier, less notorious but still very long and tiring segments of Paris-Roubaix.
Who It Favors: Sprinters who can hammer and hammerheads who can sprint. Not unlike Paris-Roubaix, if it were 75km shorter.
Did You Know? Porte du Hainault is some sort of quasi-autonomous suubregion known as the Communauté d’Agglomération de la Porte du Hainaut? Apparently there were some laws passed in France in the 1990s allowing small communities to band together to create a larger entity with an entity government, seemingly to give themselves a bit more of an economic presence. There are actually over 200 such agglomerations in France now. The Porte du Hainaut consists of 47 communities with over 150,000 residents, and Denain is the largest town, though the CA seat is in Wallers.
Pick to Win: Olav Kooij could take it in a bunch sprint, but that probably won’t be allowed to just happen, leaving it to anyone’s guess here. I’ll go with Stan DeWulf, since I dropped him off my FSA DS team.
Friday: Bredene Koksijde Classic
What’s It About: Not Handzame anymore, or ham sandwiches, as some wags used to suggest, because the race was moved away from that town to the seaside locale of Koksijde, once more proudly known for the bulk of Driedaagse De Panne.
Who It Favors: Koksijde and that part of West Flanders is flat as a pancake and barely above sea level, so yeah, sprinters.
Did You Know? Bredene is a town that now hosts the start of the race, but that’s hardly its claim to fame. It’s home to Belgium’s only official nude beach. Proceed at your own risk.
Pick to Win: Merlier. Too easy.