Lefevere blasts proposed changes to Milano-Sanremo route

The Omega Pharma-Quick Step manager says the changes will alter the entire race — and the field of riders

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BOLOGNA, Italy (VN) — Some things should remain sacred, at least as far as veteran Belgian team manager Patrick Lefevere is concerned.

The Omega Pharma-Quick Step boss blasted plans to alter the route of Milano-Sanremo, insisting that race organizer RCS Sport is defiling cycling history.

“It’s a bit sad. In cycling we are always talking about monuments, but they are the first ones to destroy their own monuments,” Lefevere told VeloNews. “It’s a total difference. It’s like a violation, like a rape.”

Lefevere joins a growing chorus of voices against plans to alter the season’s classics opener. Star sprinter Mark Cavendish, who will lead Omega Pharma on Sunday following Tom Boonen’s decision not to race for personal reasons, said changing Sanremo is akin to “paving over the cobblestones at Paris-Roubaix.”

Sprinters like Cavendish will have a reprieve, at least this year, as road damage means the introduction of the controversial Pompeiana climb likely will be put off until next year.

RCS Sport defended its decision, insisting the introduction of Pompeiana will add an exciting, unpredictable element to Sanremo that inevitably comes down to a white knuckle, see-saw battle between sprinters and attackers.

Late hurdles such as Poggio and Cipressa, two short, punchy climbs just inland from the Italian Riviera, were added in the 1960s and 1970s to spice up the finale, yet the peloton evolved to the changes, and the character of Sanremo remained the “sprinter’s classic.”

Critics say the much steeper and longer Pompeiana climb will permanently alter the dynamic of Sanremo, converting it into an Ardennes-style finale, so much so, that riders such as Cavendish and André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) were not even planning on starting.

Lefevere, however, says cycling should respect its own history.

“Don’t change the parcours of Paris-Roubaix! Don’t change of Flanders, or Sanremo, let it be!” Lefevere continued. “The race has a 100-year history. I think the question of, ‘will it be a sprint or will it not be a sprint,’ that is great. Then you see if three or five or 16 come to the line, it’s beautiful.”

Optimistic for classics

Despite the late withdrawal of Boonen from Sanremo, Lefevere is optimistic about the upcoming classics season.

Although the team has added such riders as Rigoberto Urán and nurturing young talent like Michal Kwiatkowski to give it a stronger presence in the grand tours, Omega Pharma remains at its core a classics team.

And for Lefevere, the coming weeks are the equivalent to the World Cup or the Super Bowl for the team.

“We have a very strong team for the classics,” Lefevere said. “On paper, Mark should be there for Sanremo. Then we have [Zdenek] Stybar, [Nikki] Terpstra, Tom, and [Guido] Trentin for the northern classics. I am very confident in my team.”

That bounty of talent gives Omega Pharma several cards to play, but how does Lefevere juggle the ambitions and interests of such a deep classics squad? He admits it’s not easy.

“They like each other, but when you’re in the race, everyone wants to win,” he said. “It’s very important for the sports director to put all their noses on the same page. So many factors play a role.”

Boonen time

Lefevere is especially confident that Boonen has one more ace up his sleeve for 2014.

The 33-year-old Belgian superstar looks to be in the best condition he’s had in years, and he confirmed that with a victory in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne to open the Belgian calendar three weeks ago.

Boonen looks so good that some are whispering that “Tomeke” could pull off the elusive Flanders-Roubaix double for the third time of his career.

“If we could win 50 percent of the races we start, we’d sign up with both hands,” Lefevere laughed. “He was very unlucky last year.”

Boonen was dogged with injuries throughout the 2013 classics campaign, opening the door for archrival Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) and rising power Peter Sagan (Cannondale) to dominate the cobbles.

Boonen succumbed to painful saddle sores and eventually pulled the plug on his season last July. The team decided to allow him plenty of time to naturally recover rather than undergo surgery, something that paid off dividends in unexpected ways.

Not only is Boonen fully fit, he’s healthy, motivated, and enters his 13th pro season with a more reflective, mature outlook.

“Tom had a lot of time to think at home. He could do anything he wanted except ride his bike,” Lefevere said of Boonen. “He’s 33, he knows he won’t be racing in five years’ time. The years that are left, he wants to do the best he can. He likes his bike, he likes training. He can motivate himself for the big races. If you wake up one morning and do not want to train, then you know it’s over.”

From the looks of things, Boonen’s not done yet. And neither is Lefevere.

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