You know the season has really started when the pro peloton lines up in Milan to make the very long journey to the coast and the finish line in San Remo. This Saturday the top classics riders will battle it out in the first big appointment of the season.
The 291-kilometer route is identical to last year’s, with the Poggio crested with 5.4 kilometers remaining and the finish on Via Roma. Last year, Michal Kwiatkowski, Peter Sagan and Julian Alaphilippe attacked on the Poggio. Following a brilliant descent, the race came down to a thrilling three-up sprint, with Kwiato taking the win (see video below).
Though the race is often viewed as a sprinters’ classic, the finale with the climbs of the Cipressa and Poggio provides opportunities for punchy climbers, northern classics riders and breakaway specialists to try to escape the sprinters.
Milan-San Remo, also called “The Spring Classic” or “La Classicissima,” marks the real start of the classics season and is the first Monument of the year. With the first official edition held in 1907, Milan-San Remo has a long history, and it is one of the few races to retain its long distance of almost 300 kilometers over the years.
Gino Bartali winning Milan-San Remo in 1950
Traditionally, the race’s only climb was the Passo del Turchino, a longer climb that came less than halfway through and served as an opportunity for the stronger riders to distance themselves.
But during the mid-1950s the riders began to come over the Turchino together, and so the Poggio was introduced in 1960. While the climb itself is nothing special by pro cycling standards, it has become the place for punchy climbers or northern classics specialists to attack in the closing kilometers of the race.
Milan-San Remo has continued to be classified as a sprinter’s race, despite the addition of more and more climbs, such as the Cipressa in 1982 and the Tre Capi (Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta).
Roger de Vlaminck winning the 1979 edition making it three victories for the Belgian.
With the names of sprinters such as Merckx, Kelly, Zabel, Friere, Cipollini, Kristoff, Cavendish, Degenkolb and Gerrans on the list of winners, yes, Milan-San Remo is a “sprinters’ classic,” but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s always won by a sprinter. Take, for example, Moser, Saronni, Fignon, Tchmil, Colombo, Cancellara or Kwiatkowski.
The effort the riders have to put in in order to get over the climbs before the finish, not to mention the distance at such an early stage of the season, is often forgotten, but both factors take their toll and influence the outcome.
Heinrich Haussler was second to Mark Cavendish by a heartbreaking 3 centimeters.
RIDER WITH MOST WINS
The record for most victories is held by Eddy Merckx, who won Milan-San Remo an incredible seven times between 1966 and 1976 — the first when he was just 20 years old.
THE FASTEST EDITION
The 1990 edition of Milan-San Remo, won by Gianni Bugno, remains the fastest ever, at 45.802 kilometers per hour.
The current route features four key climbs that offer a platform for attacks: the Passo del Turchino, followed by the Tre Capi (Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta) and then the Cipressa and finally the Poggio before the famous run-in to San Remo and Via Roma.
PASSO DEL TURCHINO
The race opens with a long 143-kilometer stretch on flat roads before the riders cross the Passo del Turchino — a long and easy climb — to reach the Mediterranean.
Average gradient: 1.5 per cent
The route continues on flat roads to the Tre Capi — Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta. The trio provide the perfect warm-up for the final climbs, the Cipressa and Poggio.
Capo Mele (2.5km at 5.2% average gradient)
Capo Cervo (2.5km at 4.1% average gradient)
Capo Berta (3km at 4.3% average gradient)
The Cipressa is about 6 kilometers long with an average gradient of 4 percent; the steepest section, of 9 percent, comes a little over halfway up. It’s a great place for a breakaway, as just over 20 kilometers remain in the race.
Average gradient: 3.9% average gradient
It’s time for fireworks! On to the famous Poggio and the last chance to escape. The climb is just 3.6 kilometers long, with an average gradient of 3.7 percent, but after almost 290 kilometers of racing it takes a huge effort for the bigger riders to get over the top at the front of the group.
In the 2017 edition, Kwiatkowski, Sagan and Alaphilippe succeeded in breaking away from the pack and finished 5 seconds ahead of the chasing peloton on Via Roma. The same thing happened in 2012, when Fabian Cancellara, Simon Gerrans and Vincenzo Nibali managed to get away and Gerrans proved to be best in the sprint.
Average gradient: 3.7% average gradient
Good descenders could go on the attack and drop their rivals while flying through the corners at high speeds on the approach into San Remo.
Photo | TDWsport, Jered Gruber, Castelli archive,