What's Cool In Road Cycling

MILAN SANREMO: Why We Love This Race And You Should Too

"La Classicissima" 2021 Preview

Race Preview: Milano-Sanremo is the first big one-day meeting of the stars. We’ve had the amuse-bouche of the ‘Opening Flemish Weekend’ but the main course starts here. Ed Hood runs through the history, the course and who the possible first rider will be across the finish line on the Via Roma.

A long day in the saddle from Milano

Milano-Sanremo, what’s all the fuss about?
If I may start my annual preview and tribute to the world’s greatest single day race by borrowing from the race website and go back to: 3rd April 1910.

sanremo 1910
Time of wolves and virtue of lions – A blizzard of snow, rain and wind wreak havoc among the competitors

Milano-Sanremo, the first monument classic of the season, has been the opener of the springtime cycling season worldwide since forever. More than once, however, winter had not left yet. So did it in 1910, which was remembered as one of the toughest editions in history. Sixty-three riders kicked off from Milan under a laden sky, way before the sunrise. It started to rain in Pavia, then the rain turned to hail in Tortona, and eventually it turned to snow as the peloton was negotiating the Passo del Turchino, heading for Ovada. Legend has it that Cyrille Van Houwaert – who at that time was leading the race, solo – came across a couple of skiers along the pass. It makes you wonder whether he or the two of them were the most shocked. Along the descent, Van Houwaert – nearly frozen to death – decided to call it a day. He sought refuge in a house and withdrew from the race. Eugène Christophe, too, took shelter in a hotel after clearing the descent, only to continue racing after he saw four riders zip by, through the window. He caught and dropped them all, soloing into Sanremo 12 hours and 24 minutes after setting off from Milan. Giovanni Cocchi, the runner-up, came through after 1 hour and one minute, and Giovanni Marchese took third place 1 hour and 17 minutes later. Only four riders out 63 arrived at the finish in what might be termed the toughest ‘Classicissima’ ever.

And that, fellow race fans is why it’s a ‘Monument’ and ‘the Classic of all Classics.’

sanremo 1910

Yeah, but it’s a lottery, isn’t it?
If I may quote the words of the race, ‘recordman’ a certain Baron Edouard Louis Joseph (Eddy) Merckx; ‘have you ever heard of someone winning the lottery seven times?’

Eddy Merckx Milano-Sanremo. Foto Cor Vos
World champion, Eddy Merckx – Sanremo’75

But there have been some dodgy winners – Ciolek for one, Colombo for another. . .
Gerald Ciolek, former World u23 and German Professional Champion – a race where he out-kicked Robert Forster and Erik Zabel, two of the fastest men around at the time – had strong form in the spring of 2013; he was ‘up there’ in Laigueglia, just outside the top 10 at Het Nieuwsblad, a stage winner in the Three Days of West Flanders and had two top four stage placings in Tirreno, his win was no surprise to PEZ, he was tipped in our race preview.

Gerald Ciolek – Not really a surprise

Gabrielle Colombo – the biggest loser that day was Max Sciandri, the Primavera a race he coveted above all others, I interviewed Max a few years ago, I put it to him that Colombo never really won much before or since; ‘That’s true but he was a classy rider, he liked to party though – the good life you know?’

sanremo 96
Gabrielle Colombo – Cough

The fact is that only the best of the best or a rider enjoying a deep purple patch can win this race. Is it like Paris-Roubaix or Paris-Tours which start nowhere near Paris? Nope, it starts at the Castello in the heart of the capital of Lombardy and rattles and bumps its way over the cobbles and tram tracks ‘til it clears the city limits and heads for the Plains.

And again we borrow from the race website:
The Milano-Sanremo presented is raced mostly on the classic route which has connected Milan to the Riviera di Ponente over the last 100 years, via Pavia, Ovada and the Ligurian Apennines, negotiating the Colle di Giovo as the Passo del Turchino has become impassable owing to a landslide. The descent into Albisola leads back onto the Via Aurelia; the route then strikes west, passing through Savona, Albenga and Alassio.


After the classic sequence of the ‘Capi’ (Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta), the peloton passes through Imperia and San Lorenzo al Mare to negotiate two climbs which have entered the race route in recent decades: the Cipressa (1982) and Poggio di Sanremo (1961).

Once the race hits the coast… It’s all go

The Cipressa is just over 5.6km long with a gradient of 4.1%. The descent leading back down to SS 1 Aurelia road is highly demanding.

sanremo 2019
There shouldn’t be any ‘Tifosi’ madness on the Cipressa this year

Poggio and final kilometres
The ascent of Poggio di Sanremo starts 9km before the finish line. The climb is as follows: 3.7km, average gradient less than 4%, maximum 8% in the segment before getting to the top of the climb. The road is slightly narrower, with four hairpin turns in the first two km. The descent is highly demanding, on asphalt roads, narrow at points and with a succession of hairpins, twist and turns as far as the junctions with SS 1 Aurelia. The final part of the descent enters urban Sanremo. The last 2km are on long, straight urban roads. There is a left-hand bend on a roundabout 850 m from the finish line. The last bend, leading into the home straight, is 750m from the finish line.

Sanremo finalé

But PEZ soothsayer Viktor reckons they should start it at the bottom of the Poggio and do away with the first 290K? Indeed, but he also believes there should be no mountains in Grand Tours, they should be cut to two weeks and the season finishes after Paris-Roubaix. And he’ll be glued to the TV, like the rest of us.

You’re a man for the stats; what do they tell us about who’s going to win?
The inimitable Peter Sagan [BORA-hansgrohe & Slovakia] has the best stats with eight top 10 finishes – but he’s not the Sagan of old and it’s hard to see him as a winner.

Is Sagan 100%?

Then there’s Alex Kristoff [UAE Team Emirates & Norway] who has top six finishes including a win but unless the weather is dire he’s another it’s hard to imagine him winning.

tour20 st1 kristoff
Still life in the ‘old dog’ yet

The man with the dream of winning all of the five Monuments, he’s on four at the moment, Philippe Gilbert [Lotto Soudal & Belgium] isn’t going to upstage oldest winners, 36 year-olds, Andre Tchmil and Hennie Kuiper with his 38 years.

Hoogvliet - archive - archief - stock - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Hennie Kuiper (Verandalux) - Milano - Sanremo - foto Cor Vos ©2008
Hennie Kuiper in 1985

Can a Home Boy win?
There’s nothing better than an Italian winner with ‘The Shark’ pulling it off in 2018 thanks to his demon descending – but three years is a long time in the World Tour and it’s difficult to envisage a repeat Vincenzo Nibali [Trek Segafredo] win.

Nibali held them off in 2018

Every year I mention Sonny Colbrelli [Bahrain Victorious & Italy] and every year I wish I hadn’t. . .

Sonny Colbrelli
Every year…

He’s not on the current official start list [15/03] but it’s hard to imagine Israel Start Up Nation leaving Giacomo Nizzolo to watch the race from the sofa. The European Champion won the Clasica del Almeria in February and the team is riding strongly – BUT he’s a big man and the Poggio at warp factor five has done for many a sprinter.

Euro champ Nozolo – maybe

Then there’s Het Nieuwsblad winner, Davide Ballerini [Deceuninck – Quick-Step] but 200K isn’t 300K and there’s Ala and Sam to think about for the Machiavellians in the team car.

Ballerini – Worker or winner?

So who IS going to win?
On 4* we have Messrs: Primoz Roglic [Jumbo-Visma &amp: Slovenia] if he can bounce back from the ‘chutes’ which cost him Paris-Nice.

Can Roglič recover?

Sam Bennett [Deceuninck – Quick-Step & Ireland] wasn’t punishing himself on those climbs in Paris-Nice just for fun, he knows the Poggio will be an inferno and he has to improve his fire rating.

Bunch sprint for Bennett

Michael Matthews [Team BikeExchange & Australia] may not be the quickest at 200K but this race is 300K and he’s twice been on the podium.

Matthews has form

But who are you giving FiVE stars to?
This selection isn’t going to win me any awards for deep insights, these three gentlemen are the cream: Julian Alaphilippe [Deceuninck – Quick-Step & France] won on the Via Roma in 2019 and was second last year; he’s won this year already and for me is third favourite.

Sanremo: First – Second – First for Lou Lou?

Wout Van Aert [Jumbo-Visma & Belgium] won last year and has already won this year, second favourite.

van aert
Wout – Second?

Mathieu Van Der Poel [Alpecin-Fenix & The Netherlands] four wins, including the Strade Bianche off 10 starts speaks for itself – and if that solo epic through the wind and rain in Tirreno wasn’t prep for this Saturday then I’m a Dutchman; no, sorry, he’s the Dutchman – and my numero uno preferito.

van der poel
Yes, who else?

# The Peroni Gran Riserva has been chilling for a week . . . To see live action from Sanremo go to SteepHillTV. #

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