31 March 2012

Classic Beginnings To Spring

Now we're having the sort of weather we normally get in the latter parts of November or Feburary.  So many people in this part of the world are wondering whether or not we had winter.

Officially, Spring began about a week and a half ago.  Of course, we all know that the beginning or end of a season hasn't much to do with an equinox. Or so it seems. 

Some Irish people argue that Spring begins on St. Patrick's Day.  Some old Sicilians say it starts with the feast of San Giuseppe (St. Joseph) on the 19th.  (I don't think it does; however, it's a great excuse for eating a sfingi.)  However, other Italians argue that the season commences with the Milano-San Remo race.  In fact, the race is commonly nicknamed "La Primavera." Other Europeans think la primavera or le printemps begins on the day of the nearest one-day "classic".  

One-day classics usually highlight a particular aspect of road racing such as sprinting (e.g., Milano-San Remo), climbing (La Fleche Wallonne) or the sheer ability to endure pain and torture (See the Paris-Roubaix, a.k.a., "L'enfer du nord.").  As one might expect, the first ones are held in Italy and, from there, they move northward to France, Belgium and the Netherlands.  

In times past, it was important for even the top racers to place well, if not win.  Cycling, which until the 1980's was sponsored mainly by bicycle-related companies and other mom-and-pop businesses, didn't pay as well as other sports like soccer/football.  Even Eddy Mercx built up his bank account--along with his muscles and his reputation--by winning more classics than any other racer in history.  That is one reason why, Lance's seven Tour de France wins notwithstanding, Europeans still hold Mercx in higher esteem--more than three decades after his retirement-- than just about any other racer.

Ironically, Australians won this year's and last year's Milan-San Remo.  In the native country of Simon Gerrans and Matt Goss, autumn was beginning when they won the race, as it was in 2009 when their countryman Mark Cavendish won.

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