PEZ Preview: Milano-Sanremo ’17
Milano-Sanremo Race Preview: The first big ‘Monument’ of the Classics season is this Saturday – Milano-Sanremo or ‘La Primavera’. Ed Hood runs his experienced eye over the history, course and who will be first to cross the finish line on the Via Roma in Sanremo. The real season starts now!
Gimondi in full flight
Gimondi is flying; he’s alone in the lead on the Riviera di Ponente coast road; the rainbow jersey has never looked cooler than on this man and there are few nicer looking bicycles than 1970’s Bianchi team machines. It’s March 1974 and I’m glued to our tiny TV; I’m in Kirkcaldy, Scotland a monochrome town – to match the picture. The elegant man from Bergamo glides across the Macadam and the fans throw themselves on to the road after he passes. “What the hell are they doing?” I ask myself. Then I understand; they’re kissing the tar which Felice’s Clements have just graced.
Milan – San Remo does that to people; it isn’t just a bike race, it’s a living thing, a legend that grows with the years. The world stumbles from one war and crisis to another; governments come and go but the Primavera shines on. It’s an epic race that only the very best can win; last year’s saga took just shy of seven hours to unfold.
World champion Eddy Merckx wins on the Via Roma
It’s no surprise that the ‘record man’ is Eddy Merckx with seven wins; the best bike rider ever in what for me – along with Flanders and Roubaix – is the best single day race on earth.
Two kinds of rider can win here; strong, classy opportunists like Cancellara, Pozzato and Bettini or the absolute best of the roadmen sprinters like Petacchi, Freire, Zabel and Cipollini – eventually. The route is just like you’ve read about ever since you were a kid – through the grey back streets of Milan under a weak sun before bursting out onto the endless plains and a horizon that refuses to budge.
We can hope for good weather
The Turchino Pass eventually relieves the skyline; over the top and the cavalcade tumbles down towards the western flank of Genoa. And there it is; the Gulf of Genoa, part of the Ligurian Sea, it’s so blue that it makes you gasp. This is act two of the great opera, hurtling along the coast road like some Technicolor tidal bore. The front is the only place to be; there are splits all the time as the race progresses in a serious of huge spurts which ebb and flow.
Zabel – 4 time winner
The most powerful one comes just before the feed; the leaders ease, stretch, mangle bottles and gulp the contents, musettes are rifled for something savory to relieve palates of the sickly sweet cloy of electrolyte drinks, energy bars and gels. Bladders are relieved, shorts and jerseys adjusted – time to step on it again.
Just as the purge starts, the stragglers catch up, but there’s no time to eat, drink or pee; just time to re-board the infernal train and avoid the spinning bidons, squashed Coke cans and flapping musettes which litter the road – if you’re back here, you’re doomed.
Sean Kelly on the Poggio
Act three begins with the Capi; Mele, Cervo and Berta, drags rather than climbs but taken at a speed which would indicate that the finish is just around the next bend – only there’s still an hour to race.
The Cipressa, with 23K to go, is real climb, almost as famous as the Poggio – if you were a Super Mario fan this is where you held your breath – and, to paraphrase Stephen Roche; “you can’t win Milan – Sanremo here, but you can lose it!” Cipollini did lose it here, more than once, until the glory that was 2002 – it still makes me smile.
Super Mario in 2002
When you see the sea the finish is near
The finale; through the tunnel in the rock and the sprinters’ trains are running at an infernal pace, you must have your man at the front here as the route heads right, away from the sea and onto the Poggio di San Remo. It’s hard to get the gap on the Poggio, former Danish pro and recent PEZ interviewee, Per Bausager told us: “Petacchi said to me – I think in 2007 – that he looked at the computer 700 meters from the top and the speed was 46 km/h. That explains why you don’t see anybody going solo anymore.” But you must be at the front for the sinuous decent; the peloton throws itself off the top like lemmings on speed. If you’re still in there at the bottom, you have three kilometers between you and Legend; go early if you have the strength, late if you have the speed – and the train.
A happy Cipo
Okay, enough of my musings, let’s check the important numbers before we look at what PEZ – and the bookies – have to say about edition 108 of the Classic of all Classics.
# 1: First winner was Lucien Petit-Breton of France in 1907.
# 4: The number of riders who have won whilst wearing the rainbow jersey; Binda in 1931, Merckx in ’72 and ’73, Gimondi in ’74 and Saronni in ’83.
# 5:46: In minutes and seconds the best time for the ascent of the Poggio, Giorgio Furlan in 1994.
# 7: The most wins by one rider, inevitably, Eddy Merckx.
# 11: Most top ten finishes, Constante Girardengo, six wins, three second places and two third places.
# 11: Years since the last Italian, Pippo Pozzato won the Primavera.
# 12: Starts in the race by Tom Boonen, the most of any competitor this year.
# 16: Number of riders to win on their debut, the last being Mark Cavendish in 2009.
The man with the most starts in Milano – Matteo Tosatto
# 16: Most finishes in the race by Matteo Tosatto and Erik Zabel.
# 17: Most starts, Tosatto.
# 20: Age in years of youngest winner, Ugo Agostoni in 1914; Eddy Merckx also won at 20 years-of-age in 1966 (Merckx has three of the five youngest wins in the race).
# 22: Years and 250 days, the age of Caleb Ewan as this year’s youngest debutant.
# 25: Number of teams participating.
# 36: Years and 57 days, the age of the oldest winner, Andre Tchmil in 1999.
# 36: Years and 175 days, the age of Daniele Bennati as this year’s oldest participant.
Cancellara solo in 2008
# 44: Number of solo winners; the last was Cancellara in 2008.
# 45.806: The race record speed in KPH, Gianni Bugno 1990.
# 50: Total number of nationalities who have participated in the race.
# 50: The number of Italian wins (Belgium is second on 20).
# 108: This year’s edition of the ‘Classic of all Classics’.
# 200: The number of riders taking part.
# 300: Race distance in kilometers (gave or take a few meters).
# 1907: Year of the first race.
What was it Harold Melvin said? “The bookies get ya for every cent you got.” They rarely get it wrong, therefore we’ve enlisted the aid of said book making gentlemen (‘Turf Accountants’ is their Sunday name in the UK) in framing our preview and excluded all those riders on 40/1 or longer odds (correct at time of writing).
Without further ado here’s PEZ’s ‘Dazzling Dozen.’
12: Ben Swift (UAE-Team Emirates & GB) – Apart from fourth on a stage of the Tour Down Under Ben hasn’t been setting the palmarès websites aflame thus far in 2017 but he’s been second and third in this race in the past and loves it. He always answers our phone calls so nothing would give us more satisfaction than the man with the best name in sprinting to ‘do the business.’ 34/1.
Can Ben Swift follow Tom Simpson (1964) and Mark Cavendish (2009)?
11: Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe & Ireland) – beat all the big names to a stage win in Paris-Nice but that was over 190K, not 300. That said, the man has won semi-classics in Paris-Bourges, Koln and Almeira and there comes a day where the up and coming actually arrive. 33/1.
10: Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida & Italy) – Has stepped up to Pro Tour from Bardiani after a late season 2016 campaign where he was on fire winning the Tre Valli Varesine, Coppa Sabatini and Coppa Agostoni. His recent stage win in Paris-Nice was out of the top drawer but just important was his fourth place into Nice just behind ‘Alberto’s Trio’ where he won the sprint after some pretty savage last stage climbs – he could be on the podium. 25/1.
A stage win in Paris-Nice shows he has form
9: Michael Matthews (Sunweb & Australia) – Hasn’t given any indications of form thus far in 2017 except a fourth place in a Paris-Nice stage; but remember that he’s been on the podium here before and is a class act, 19/1.
8: Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott & Australia) – Has been racking up the wins, but as Sean Kelly will tell you, three hours Down Under or in the desert ain’t the Via Roma after seven hours. We think that it’s expecting too much of the man to be right up there on Saturday and his cause was certainly not helped by his premature exit from Tirreno, just when he needed those kilometers most. 18/1.
Sanremo is a bit tougher than a stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour
7: Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis & France) – Another man compromised by an early exit, this time from Paris-Nice. No wins this year for the pugnacious Frenchman but last year’s derailleur disaster in sight of the line will still smart and he’ll be out to make amends. 16/1.
6 equal: Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data & GB) – Back in 2009 when he won here he had raced more, won more and there was a GB master plan in place for him to get over the Cipressa. But with Cav you can never tell . . . . 13/1.
Mark Cavendish could pull a surprise
6 equal: Alex Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin & Norway) – With wins in the Etoile and podiums in Paris-Nice, he’s ready – and he’s won before so he knows the ropes. 13/1.
4: Arnaud Démare (FDJ & France) – He’s won in the Etoile and Paris-Nice and there was a top six at Kuurne and let’s not forget that as defending champion, pride is a strong motivator. 12/1.
A repeat of 2016 for Démare
3: John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo & Germany) – A stage win in Dubai but more importantly podiums in the Algarve and Paris-Nice; we think it’s still too soon for him to be back to his best after last year’s horror crash – but those bookies are seldom wrong. 11/1.
2: Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step & Colombia) – Stage wins in San Juan, the Algarve and Tirreno (it was well have been two had not he come down in the finale) he’s startlingly quick but can also go long – remember Paris-Tours, last year? Couple all that with having the World’s best Classics team in his service and it’s easy to see why he’s one of the two ‘super favorites.’ And those who know him will tell you how cool, calm and collected he is, he rarely gets emotional; then think back to his demeanor after he crashed in sight of the line last year – he’ll want this one bad. 6/1.
The Young Colombian could make history
1: Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe & Slovakia) – Second in Het Nieuwsblad, the winner of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and two Tirreno stages. Brutally strong, a brilliant bike handler, he can get over the climbs which other fast men can’t and he’s one of the best sprinters, period. No surprise he’s race favorite at 5/1.
Sagan, why not?
# You require: a good supply of Peroni Rossa, the biggest bag of potato chips you can find and sole access to the TV remote – and remember to print off a start sheet at the office on Friday. Race report, Roadside and video catch-up all here on PEZ. For live action from Italy go to steephill.tv.
Ciao, ciao. #
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,400 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.