Roadside PEZ: Ale’s Sanremo ’17 Chase!

Roadside PEZ Milano-Sanremo: Every year Ale Federico ‘chases’ Milano-Sanremo and apart from the Giro d’Italia, it’s the high point of his year. As we know World champion Peter Sagan was the man of the day and Ale was ‘Roadside’ to see the rainbow make its passage.

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Sagan attacks on Poggio, Kwiato and Alaphilippe chase him. It’s been many years that nobody attacked so strongly on the Sanremo hill that I wasn’t sure I would see such effort again

I see Sagan at the very last moment, my finger is on the shutter, my hand shakes a bit from the emotion. The photo motos are very close to the rider and will give me less than a second to shoot the picture. I’m ready, it has been a whole day that I have been chasing the race and hoping it will be a great Poggio passage… and this is a great Poggio passage, it’s a great attack. Sagan is a beast, he powers the bike so strongly that you believe it will break in two parts from one moment to the next. Behind him I feel the fury of the chase, but nothing more, my attention is fully trapped by the rainbow jersey and his magic move.

Milano already showing the sings of Primavera. The morning is warm and trees in blossom are all around in the city gardens

Riders are excited at the start as we are. For many of them it is the first one and is the one they remember for life. Supported by families they move from the buses to the departure line in apparent calm

The missing one
When Angelo’s text message came on Friday afternoon we can’t believe it. He feels bad since yesterday and he has a fever, he won’t join me and Francesco for the pizza, but especially for Milano Sanremo chasing. As any team, when an element is missing, you miss something. Angelo is the creative one: A big sense of humor, great photographer, he can talk for the entire day, while me and Francesco are the planners of the chase, we could say not a word for the entire day! Because one of us is forced to stay at home on the most important day of the year, me and Francesco have to feed him with all possible information from the road to give him the feeling to be with us; not the same of course, but at the end we will have a long phone talk on the way home and we will loudly laugh together.

The departure village is organized at Castello Sforzesco, in downtown Milano. It’s the opportunity for clubs and groups of enthusiasts to organize their day out. As it was for this “Nizzolo fan club” guys

The start
The Sanremo day starts very early because the departure village opens at 8:00am. When I arrive, the first team bus (this year Cofidis) is already there; considering that the teams were all sleeping in the suburbs means for the rider a very early wake up call. This is part of the effort of organizing this 300km race. It’s a perfect day, almost never we can find such weather in Milano for the start. The temperature is perfect even in the early morning and the city shows its signs of the new season. This is the Primavera.

Tomasz Marczyński talks to Francesco while he moves to the departure line. We will call him after the race to understand racing his first Milano Sanremo

Today the plan is to avoid any change to the standard chasing we do every year. We know very well all the tricks of the pursuit and we don’t want to change anything of it, so that we will have more time for the pictures and to observe and meet people around. We have to miss the last part of the departure and move to Milano south earlier than the race, but this is the ticket you have to pay to watch the most interesting passage of the day, but not before we meet Tomasz Marczyński. Francesco is a friend of the Lotto Soudal rider and is also the person that takes care of his webpage. This is the first Milano Sanremo for Tomasz and it will be interesting to understand how this race is, from the bunch point of view, by an “insider”.

The Binasco roundabout is located just after Milano, on the way to the south. A typical suburb crossroads

Local cycling fans as well as curious are joining the “roundabout hill” to look at the race passage

Yes – I know – you’re right. The most interesting passage of the day is the Poggio, I agree. But Binasco roundabout comes just before. The last and the first. All other passages are – from cycling point of view – really nothing special. A race rolling fast, a break and the bunch, few seconds and back in the car. That’s it and it’s like that every year. But if the Poggio passage is magic because of the sportive stress and expectation, the roundabout is because you never know if the break has taken off or not. Many years it happens that the early break makes a move exactly there and because you have about 500 meters view, you can appreciate the big effort of the attackers and the one of the others trying to join, but remaining in the bunch. This year the 10 attackers have already 4 minutes advantage; ten people might be dangerous but the wind is against the race and in the group the FdJ, as well as other big teams, already put one of their men in front to control. So, from this passage we already know the break will take some advantage but will be always under the sight of the big boys inside the bunch. Not bad for a passage!

Always I like to meet families with kids at races. This young boy one day may become a big cycling enthusiast, or… a rider!

And here we go. I know this picture is familiar to PEZ readers because every year I post one similar, changing just the protagonists. But it’s my personal task to make this passage famous such like the Arenberg!

Another important moment of our day is Pontecurone. This is a small town in Piemonte and it’s difficult to explain why it’s so important because in Pontecurone there’s nothing special. Maybe this is the reason why we all three love this place. We have about 40 minutes before the race passage and we can spend this time preparing our lunch, talking with people and also discovering something new we didn’t know. While I was walking on the main road, which is the one crossed by the race and it’s actually a very narrow road, one lady told me I had to go round the first block on the right and visit a wonderful church. Reluctantly I did it because I wasn’t convinced there could be anything special; I was wrong. Pieve Santa Maria is the name of this church, very ancient, built around the year 1000. Inside there are still wall paintings of that time, refurbished and in good status. But Potecurone is also the free coffee. Every year I meet a madame owning her bar and offering me a cup of espresso. Her name is Sole and she comes from Chile. She says she has some special power and can understand much from a person by just looking at them. Three years ago she guessed my job (in the real life, not the journo passion) and she was right. Maybe no special powers but a kind of person that observes a lot. Anyhow this time the bar was closed and gave the impression that it was closed forever.

Just behind a block of houses, hidden from the race route, this mediaeval jewel in Potecurone, the Pieve Santa Maria from the year 1000

The cafè I drink in (for free) every year, this time is closed and I have the impression it will be for now on. Let’s see next year…

It’s lunchtime when we arrive in the Apennines. We pass Ovada and we drive into the Stura Valley, towards the Passo del Turchino. Now the headwind is really very strong, much more than on the flat and it affects our waiting time a lot. No way to enjoy our stay too much, I go behind a wall and I wait for the race. Also the break seem to suffer a lot in these conditions, their suffering is ridiculous, considering that we are on a flat sector but the wind is really very strong. Here spring has not yet come, it’s a matter of few weeks more. Since the very beginning, at the roundabout, the break maintains about 4 minutes on the bunch. As predicted (no need to have special powers here) the bunch is in total control of these guys. They won’t go anywhere.

Last riders and team cars pass inside the narrow street in Pontecurone

The Apennines are going to come soon, the wind is stronger and it will be even stronger in the Turchino valley

The sea!
Flanders is the steep climbs, Roubaix the pavé, Liége the Côte, Lombardia is the lake, Strade Bianche the gravel and Sanremo is the sea! Last year was very calm and this year gives more emotion with its long waves. After a passage close to my city, Genova, where the group was decelerating after the dangerous Turchino descent, we meet again the race in Spotorno. We feel immediately how the speed has increased by the bunch and now games become serious. We have a last passage before the Poggio, which is Andora.

The Turchino climb is still sleeping in the winter and the strong wind is quite chilly. The race has a big delay on the timetable. There will be more than 7 hours racing today

Finally the seaside, the Riviera. Now games are over the big boys put their teammates to work hard at the head of the group

Another one that we like. Again because we usually have some time to spend before the race, but this year things are different. The bunch increased the speed a lot so that after a few minutes we were already prepared for this exciting passage. Exciting because in this moment the group is so fast and compact that you can feel the air moving. Two hundred men riding at 60 km/h all together, passing in less than 5 seconds. It’s a great show, believe me: The people wait and chat, apparently quiet, then they see the moto from far, they understand the race comes, now there’s a couple of minutes of total silence from the road. Then the race approaches, someone scream, someone else applauds, the race passes, it’s a few seconds of uncontrolled excitement and immediately after again the silence.

Andora and other people waiting for the race. Our trip is almost at an end and we start to feel tired. But the big games are yet to come

The silence
After the race the first and the last though is: ‘how far away is home?’ We still have time to spent together, the next stop is the Giro, whatever it will take in life we will try to be there, all three of us. Our car rapidly returns the way we drove the whole day long as it now becomes evening. We give a call to Tomasz to understand how the race went from inside; the Pole finished in the group with Mark Cavendish, 122th at 5’24” from the winner and he explained that a strong unexpected braking, just before the Cipressa, took him to last position at the beginning of that climb. Despite his big effort he wasn’t able to rejoin the head, and the race was over. This makes it easier to understand how difficult it is to ride this race! When I asked about the wind Tomasz surprisingly replied – “there was not that big a wind!” Hopefully we will see Tomasz again in action at the Giro after a strong Ardennes campaign. I take Francesco to Voghera train station. Few words, a hug. It’s always difficult say goodbye after this kind of experience, but there’s no reason to stay together any longer. Maybe a pizza, but it’s still a very long way home. I miss my wife and my daughter, I miss my young boy, five years old, waiting for me to play together. He doesn’t know yet, but the fourth seat in the car is free for him.

Andora passage, another pinnacle of our day

# Ed Hood previews the 2020 Milano-Sanremo HERE. Don’t forget the Race Report on Saturday!

You can see more of Ale’s photos on his Instagram page. #

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