Yes, its been a long nine months since Jens Voigt beat the frosty Parisian wins and 167 other competitors to take the first ProTour race back in March. The season closed down earlier this morning (local time) as Paolo Bettini won the Tour of Lombardy after providing much animation. Quick.Step star Bettini, who puts forth perhaps the most Bella Figura in the cycling world, what with his upbeat, friendly diary, charming nickname and adorable smile, (despite an evil dark side that pops up from time to time), beat a not-quick enough Gibo Simoni from Lampre and CSC’s suprising Franck Schleck, who, despite the ponderous excess of consonants in his last name, could be a man to watch in the hilly classics next spring. All three riders in the trio made attempts to hop away over the final series of climbs, but they were all too evenly matched, and after his attack at 1km failed, Giampaolo Caruso of Liberty Seguros lead out the sprint. Though Gibo’s got a good burst after a tough day in the saddle, Bettini has the legs of a much fatter man, and took off at 300m, knowing the others couldn’t muster the kick to come around him.
So, as a result of all this nonsense, Danilo DiLuca got a white ProTour jersey. Woo. It’s not like this wasn’t sealed up back at the end of May. Next year’s revised scoring will provide riders who can’t realistically contend for a GC placing at the Grand Tours an opportunity to compete for the title (Stage wins are now worth 10 points, instead of a meaningless 3), but the “Classics-rider-with-Grand-Tour-potential” mold set by DiLuca isn’t likely to go anywhere, meaning the “best” rider in cycling (according to the UCI, anyway) will continue to be DiLuca, Bettini, Rebellin, maybe Astarloa, possibly Hincapie, an outside chance at Kim Kirchen, and, if he stops trying to win the Tour, Vino. Now, perhaps you’re thinking “Ok, smart guy, always so critical of the UCI, how would you set up a season-long individual competition?” Well, I wouldn’t. It’s a friggin’ stupid idea. Sure, 30 years ago, you had the same riders battling each other in Paris-Roubaix that would go on to battle each other at the Giro, and then the Tour, and then in Lombardy and then at the World Championships. Nowadays, the people on the podium on the Champs Elysees aren’t even on the start line at Roubaix, and Tom Boonen/Paolo Bettini is considered an “all arounder” because he can win flat/hilly races in a sprint or by going solo.
98% of riders focus on doing one thing they are extremely good at. Robbie McEwen trains to be the quickest, most bandito sprinter on the planet just as hard as Armstrong trained to win 7 Tours. Unfortunately for Robbie Mac, even with a sensational season, let’s say eight Grand Tour wins, and eight wins in smaller stage races, he only gets 4 points more than Armstrong makes from 1 event. Now, you could argue that a TdF title is won over three weeks of the hardest racing there is, so it’s ok to make it worth as much McEwen’s entire season. But a classics rider can put together nearly that many points in four days, doubling up at Flanders/Wevelgem, or Amstel/Fleche. And because of this proximity and similarity of parcours between the classics, it’s played out repeatedly over the past few years that an on-form rider (Boonen and VanPeet at Flanders/Roubaix, Rebellin and DiLuca at Amstel/Fleche) has done just that. But you can’t make the Classics worth less, because then riders like Kim Kirchen, whose potential ProTour campaign would be based on accumulating minor placings throughout the year, finds his 4ths and 5ths at the one-days worth 9 and 7 points, instead of 25 and 20.
Basically, no matter how you set it up, someone’s going to get screwed. What about riders who plan their seasons around winning Points or Mountains competitions? There’s no Pro Tour points for those at all. Now, you might be thinking that I’m missing the point here, that the ProTour is supposed to be a season-long all-around best rider competition. But I know this; what I’m trying to say is that no one can possibly plan their year around winning the ProTour; the season’s become too long, the racing’s become too high-level, and the racers have had to specialize as a result. All the ProTour system does is decide which specialization is worth the most points. Look at Tom Boonen’s year: Flanders, Roubaix, Tour of Belgium, a handful of Paris-Nice stages, two Tour stage wins, a cluster of minor placings in the TdF, Vuelta, and Tour of Switzerland, a World Title, and still a major classics win behind Danilo DiLuca, who didn’t win a single race after June 1st, all because the UCI thinks being ok at climbing in a Grand Tour is more important than being the best in a group sprint.