Potential route changes see Froome rule out Milan-San Remo - but Cavendish may now ride
Heavy rainfall and landslides mean propsed new Pompeiana climb likely to be ruled out on safety grounds
Chris Froome has abandoned plans to ride Milan-San Remo following news that the tougher course due to feature in this year's edition of the Italian Classic is set to be scrapped on safety grounds - but with the parcours almost certain to revert to the more sprinter-friendly version raced up until 2007, former winner Mark Cavendish is on standby to take part in the race.
This year's race, on Sunday 23rd March, was due to include a new climb, the Pompeiana, slotted in between the Cipressa and the Poggio in the closing part of the sport's longest one-day race and which has a maximum gradient of 14 per cent.
Organisers RCS Sport said in November that the new route, which would have all but ruled out sprinters from contesting the finale, would make the race "more spectacular and unpredictable."
But heavy rain in recent weeks and landslides in the area around the Pompeiana climb have led local authorities to refuse permision for the road to be used because they deem it to be too dangerous.
RCS Sport have yet to make a formal announcement, but it looks likely that the race will revert to the route that featured between 1982 and 2007.
Towards the end of that period, the race became very much the preserve of sprinters, leading RCS Sport to introduce the climb of Le Manie, 94km from the finish.
In recent editions that climb has at times proved influential in terms of forcing a selection, but heavy snowfall during last year's edition meant both Le Manie and the earlier ascent to the Passo del Turchino were cut out while it was in progress, the riders bussed to beyond Le Manie to resume the race, won by MTN-Qhubeka's Gerlad Ciolek.
Tour de France champion Froome, quoted on Sky Sports, said that the likelihood of the parcours of this year's race being changed meant that he had reconsidered his plans to ride it.
"I thought I might try my luck because the organisers had decided to make the race more difficult by adding a climb in the final," he explaind.
"But ultimately, the traditional, less difficult course will be used. It no longer makes sense to start [the European campaign] in Milan."
He has also decided to skip Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and his preparations to defend his Tour de France title will focus on Tirreno-Adriatico, Tour of Catalonia, Tour of Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine.
He also ruled out riding April's Paris-Roubaix, which passes over some of the same cobbles that will feature in Stage 5 of this year's Tour de France.
"From what I can understand, the cobbles are very different in a one-day race than in a Grand Tour," he said.
"I'd personally prefer not to take the risk in a race on the cobbles. I'd like to go and train on cobbles a lot to prep for that cobbled-stage in the Tour."
Cavendish won Milan-San Remo in 2009, on the parcours that included Le Manie, but since then has seen his challenge come to grief on that climb more than once.
In 2011, when then HTC-Highroad team mate Matt Goss triumphed, crashes on the climb caused the peloton to split and Cavendish was among those left behind.
The following year, now at Team Sky and in the rainbow jersey of world champion, Cavendish went into the race a strong favourite, but was dropped as Vincenzo Nibali's Liquigas-Cannondale team rode flat out on Le Manie with the aim of distancing the Manxman.
In December, Cavendish told La Gazzetta dello Sport that the planned changes to the route meant that he was likely to have taken part in the race for the final time.
News that the race may revert to its historic parcours, at least for one year, has led to his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team putting Cavendish on stand-by to lead its challenge in this year's edition, although it is unlikely that a final decision will be taken until the route is officially confirmed.