The Primavera Démare Affaire
The Primavera; it’s more than a race, an epic, a legend and lives up to all the clichés if you’re lucky enough to follow it – all 300 K of it.
I was in the Saunier Duval team car for the duration in 2008 and Martin and I followed the race in 2009.
Grey, chilly, monumental Milano, the Lombardy Plains, the Turchino winding through the coastal hills, the Ligurian Sea, blue as blue can be, the Riviera, the Capi, the Cipressa, the Poggio, the Via Roma, the City of Flowers...
It’s been branded a ‘tame’ version of the Classicissima but we’re all still talking about it days later.
Bouhanni didn’t sleep for two nights after dropping his chain in the finale and losing what for many looked like the win.
Gaviria crossed the line in tears, a moment’s inattention wasting seven hours of being in the right place at the right time.
And the ‘Démare Affair’ has split the pundits down the middle; some want him DQ-ed and others say there’s not enough evidence – and even if it did happen, the commissaires didn’t see it so it didn’t happen.
I posted a picture on my Facebook page – which came from a Dutch website and was alleged to have been taken by Eros Poli – of a F des J rider seemingly being towed by the team car.
The comments came thick and fast; the gist of which was that it wasn’t the Cipressa and it wasn’t Démare – ‘Vichot on the Turchino’ the experts say - albeit the climb in the picture could well be the Cipressa, it’s wide with crash barriers at the bottom. [The Inrng blog has a good analysis of the issues here. editor.]
The other ‘evidence’ is Démare’s Strava data – but I’ve seen so many varying accounts about how that can be manipulated/distorted and I’m no computer expert so won’t pontificate on that aspect.
The fact is that Démare came down in a crash before the Cipressa along with Kennaugh, Thomas and Matthews.
Matthews said that a rider on the front decided to move from the left side of the road to the right without a glance and took down a clutch of riders.
Matthews and Kennaugh got back to the peloton albeit Matthews didn’t get to the front but having seen pictures of him at the finish - torn to shreds - it’s hardly surprising that he didn’t contest the sprint.
Démare had hardly a scratch – just the way the mop flops in a crash, we’ve all been there.
But if Matthews and Kennaugh got back then why shouldn’t Démare?
There was a moment of the Eurosport coverage where the camera panned back to the little group with Matthews and Démare both chasing hard but nothing untoward to be seen.
As for Démare riding the Cipressa at warp speed, in all the Primavera’s I’ve watched live and on TV it’s the least frantic I’ve ever seen it ridden.
Kreuziger rode tempo for a good part of the climb and the Visconti/Stannard dig came later on the ascent but didn’t spread panic through the big peloton – the escapees were always coming back on the coast road.
Ian Stannard is bestially strong but the race is won between the top of the Poggio and the Via Roma and his attack was doomed from the start – he’d have been best to save all those watts for a late move in Sanremo like he made a few years ago or to chaperone Swift in the finale - Swift must have known his legs were good?
The Poggio, whilst not exactly pedestrian, was also far from savage with things only sparking very late when Kwiatkowski made his move.
Brian Smith made the point in his Eurosport commentary that whilst the good weather and steady chase down of the big, early break meant there were a lot of riders in the peloton many of them would be clinging on by their fingernails and couldn’t/wouldn’t contribute.
The 20 or so strong men in the group meanwhile were leaving it late because there were still so many riders around them.
In short, Démare may have been a monkey but it’s not too good to be true to believe that he got back without 'monkeydom'.
This year even the usual frenzied drop from the summit of the Poggio to the Via Roma wasn’t quite as urgent as usual with Nibali, Sagan and Cancellara sitting looking at each other with poker faces at one point.
So much for Nibali’s talk of an ‘aggressive race.’
Kwiatkowski’s move looked good until Cancellara snuffed it out in seconds – but QuickStep were on the Suisse and he sat up.
Then Boasson Hagen went, that looked good, Van Avermaet covered it but wouldn’t (couldn’t?) come through.
The sprint was packed with drama, Gaviria looked good to me and he is just so fast but a second’s inattention saw him hit the deck, blowing not just his own hopes but those of Sagan and Cancellara who had to avoid him.
For me, Viktor and Eurosport’s Magnus Bäckstedt it looked like Bouhanni was the winner once Gaviria was out of it, until the Frenchman dropped his chain – the way Bouhanni won Monday’s Stage One in Catalonia leaves little doubt about his form, he left the on-form Ben Swift lengths back.
Swift’s Primavera was out of the top drawer though, his second podium in this magnificent Monument.
But the fact is that it was Démare who’s name becomes legend and whilst last year wasn’t his best if you take a look at his palmares, they’re pretty impressive including two Dunkirk Four Days, the HEW Classic, Le Samyn, the GP Isbergues, the Championship of Flanders, the Tour of Picardie and his National Championship – and he’s only 24 years-old.
I saw him win the U23 Worlds in Copenhagen and he’s fast, romping home lengths clear.
There are few other names we have to mention:
Roger Kluge (IAM & Germany) spent 270 K off the front – that’s full Classic distance - but it was only days ago he was the silver medallist in the World Omnium Championship – respect to the big fellow.
Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data & GB) cracked on the Cipressa; whilst Kluge won a medal in the omnium and was off the front ‘til the Cipressa, Cav was sixth in London and invisible on Saturday ‘til the camera’s zero-ed in on him slipping backwards.
We just hope his optimistic hopes for this season mean he comes away with nothing due to trying to be ‘Jack of all trades’ in an age of cycling specialisation.
‘Pippo’ Pozzato (Southeast & Italy) and whilst his best days may be behind him he’s still cool, flamboyant and in good shape – a top ten is a great result for him and his team.
Heinrich Haussler (IAM & Australia) it was good to see the Aussie back ‘in the mix’ he was second to Cav back in 2009 and whilst he’s never quite been back at that level he’s always aggressive in the Northern Classic and it’ll be good to see how he goes when it all kicks off in Dwars Door – and that top ten result will have done his morale no harm.
The Cobbled Classic are upon us and The Primavera is consigned to the ‘photo specials’ in the magazines to come over the next week or two.
But I’m looking forward to 2017 already – Bouhanni? Matthews? Gaviria? Démare to defend? Or Swift to go one better?
The saga rolls on, I can’t wait.