What's Cool In Road Cycling

Top Rides: The Finale Of Milano-Sanremo

We just can’t help it. La Primavera is such a magnificent race – she deserves some loving in the run-in to the big day. Here’s one final look at the course.

Milano-Sanremo enjoys a hard-earned spot on the list of lists: the Monuments. It is one of the most beautiful of the Classics, and it just happens to be six or so hours down the Autostrada from me – so it had to be done. I took on the final section along the coast to Sanremo…and it was just as I had imagined.

Well, everything I had imagined except for the cars. See, the thing with a race like this: it’s easy to forget that this is the main road along a very busy coastline. On any normal day, you will share the gorgeous coastal road up and down the capi with hundreds, nay, thousands of cars and gawking tourists. It’s a bit off-putting at first, but it’s just something that you need to get over.

Ashley and I decided to drive to Nice on a whim. We left around midnight when we realized the weather wouldn’t be too generous to us that weekend in Nice. We drove the whole night through and ended up on the Mediterranean coast right about sunrise.

Yep, it was pretty spectacular, but the thing about driving all night? You end up tired when you get there. I took a little nap, and then got going. It was one of those little kid moments – tired, but too excited to sleep. I was going to ride to Sanremo!

Ashley wasn’t nearly as excited as I was. She just kept right on sleeping.

Of course, the weather was perfect. It always seems perfect in this part of the world. Did you see the pictures from the final day at Paris-Nice? Nice is just 100km up the road from Alassio (where I started). They don’t call Paris-Nice the Race to the Sun for nothing.

Almost immediately after getting started, I ran into the first of the three capi (Mele, Cervo, Berta), or rather, I Tre Capi, as the aficionados would call them. Capo Mele is nothing spectacular in terms of difficulty, but I really can’t even fathom the speed capi are ridden at, not to mention what they must feel like after just under 250km of racing.

The road along the coast is divine. I tried over and over to capture some semblance of just how magnificent it is to ride along the coast, but it’s hard to get hold of that feeling. It’s interesting that the pictures that really nail the feeling are the ones taken from above, looking down on the riders. Something like this one:

The main idea of the lead-in to the finale of the Cipressa and the Poggio? The road is fast, it’s winding, it’s constantly up and down, towns abound, the road constantly opens and narrows, splits, turns, shifts. It’s chaos.

Looking behind heading up Capi Berta.

The atmosphere in the bunch must be near frantic once they hit the capi. The constant field turmoil and swells that are unavoidable with a lumpy, fast route must drive the stress meter well over indescribable.

The descents are anything but simple. They’re open, fast, and twisty.

The road is a joy to ride on your own – constantly up and down, but fast. In the race, I shudder to think of the insanity that this type of course serves up buffet-style.

The road is fast, even on your own. It gets even faster when you link up with some scooters and mini-trucks. I took to this happily. It’s hard not to want to imagine what the speed is like that fantastic Saturday in March…

Traffic signs keep you pointed in the right direction.

Losing a little focus? Mind drifting? No worries – the innumerable towns, roundabouts, and traffic will keep you paying very fair attention.

This is Italy after all, so there is plenty to look at. It doesn’t even have to be the ocean!

Getting very close to the Cipressa. 5k to go.

Heading into the Cipressa, I faked racing and what it must feel like to be behind the human motorbikes that race this thing.

At Long Last: The Cipressa
By the time the race hits the Cipressa, the steaming broth of bike riders is boiling over and it’s time for for this dance party to begin. Twisting through yet another little town, the sign for the Cipressa pops up, and that famous right hand turn is there to be had.

Coming from Innsbruck, I’ve been beaten senseless by climbs that constantly average more than 10% for forever. I just have a habit of expecting it now, so I was surprised to enjoy such a gentle slope. It’s not easy by any means, especially not when you consider this climb is enjoyed in the 35-40kph range (oh my).

I didn’t know that though, I was about to find that out. I was about to run into one, Mr. Michael Rogers. The poor guy was just enjoying a nice day along the coast when I turned up. Silence is not one of my strong suits.

So up I ride to the man in black. Hi, I’m Jered Gruber. I write for PezCyclingNews. How are you doing? I don’t know if there’s ever an easy way to breach this first silence, that moment when someone’s solitude is disturbed by a much too energetic someone else. Rogers took it well and answered my torrent of questions.

Seems the lead-in to this here climb is nothing short of (insert your favorite synonym for crazy or insane). The speed? As I mentioned above, it rivals Chuck Yeager in a fighter jet.

The Cipressa’s numbers? 5.6km, 4.1% average, 9% max, 234m of elevation gain. In any other race, this would be a bump, nothing more than a Cat 3 climb. After 270km? It has to be damn near Hors Categorie. It’s not any easier when the sprinters are trying to stay on terms with people like Paolo Bettini, et al.

The descent off the Cipressa keeps very nicely with the theme of curvaceously fast. There’s nary a straight piece of road, the pavement is great, and it’s an awesome descent. Again, I don’t want to know how insane it must be in the actual race, but on this day in November – it was perfect. Well, it was a bit more stressful taking pictures while descending.

After you are deposited once again on the coastal road, it’s only a little ways to the foot of the even more famous Poggio.

One More Dance Today? The Poggio
It is 9km from the reemergence onto the coastal road to the start of the Poggio. It must be an introspective time for sprinters and attackers alike. Will they manage to not get dropped, will they manage to drop everyone else? Oh the drama.

No time for thinking, here we are: the Poggio. Michael Rogers’ ears must have been ringing at this point, so he pointed me in the right direction and kept right on going down the coastal road. Thanks, Michael!

It’s a high-quality feeling, turning on to a famous road like that. I rather like it. There’s just something about this bike racing thing that turns rational, intelligent people into blubbering idiots and hero worshipping kids. If you have a hero that has found glory or demise here – you can’t help but love the roads that make it all possible.

The climb? 3.7km, 3.7% average, and 134m of evlevation gain.

I turned and immediately started going faster. It took me a minute to realize that I was needlessly speeding along. It’s hard not to get a little amped up when you hit a ramp like the Poggio. It actually feels like a launch pad. The gentle grade is fun to pedal hard on. The switchbacks require some setting up for, because if you have any kind of real speed…you run out of road. It, quite simply, feels like the road racing equivalent of a race track. It’s fantastic.

I didn’t look like this, but I imagine it was pretty close.

At this point, there’s not too much for me to say. The climb is fast, technical, and the views are sexy. I think I could handle walking up the climb just for the simple fact that it’s beautiful…and do remember that I don’t like walking.

Road graffiti is quite the interesting side story to this climb: it’s everywhere!

Looking behind at the road just pedaled…pays to look behind you. It’s pretty back there too.

This is a perfect climb for all of us with short attention spans. I have a hard time with some of those ginormous alpine climbs and their many kilometers and many meters of elevation gain. The Poggio is just right. Just when you’re thinking, alright, the climb is beautiful and fun, but I’m about ready for something else…BAM, you’re done. There’s the city limit sign! But wait, it’s not quite done yet. This must be where the real fun starts on the Poggio. It flattens for a moment, kicks a little bit, and keeps on going.

Some might call this a false flat. I say, never a more lying word hath ever been spoken. In my simple world, a road is either flat, uphill, or downhill. No, it’s not falsely flat, it’s honestly uphill. This road goes uphill.

After the silly road is finished playing tricks on you, the descent begins promptly and with reckless abandon…just as the riders ride it. I feel like I’ve said this a few times already: this piece of cycling legend, one of the most famous descents in the sport, stays true to the race – it’s fast, technical, and must scare the heart rate monitor straps off their skinny chests.

But hey, it’s downhill, that’s better than uphill right? Well, no one breaks their femurs on lightposts going uphill, do they? I rest my case.

The descent isn’t too terribly crazy, it’s just like everything on this course: when you run it at race speed (ie warp factor 38), it becomes an entirely different road. The road becomes the perfect race track: it can yield vital seconds to hold off the chasing field, it can be used to bring back that lost gap on whoever wants to be this year’s Bettini/Pozzato/Cancellara, or can provide that very special piece of wall or post that will crack your bones. I’m just sayin…

After that, it’s back to the coast and you’re pretty much done. I know the course hasn’t finished on the Via Roma in a little while, but come on, when you think of famous finishing straights, which name comes up first? Well, for me it’s the Via Roma, and I’m pretty sure Ed Hood would say the same too, and if anyone’s opinion counts on matters such as these, it is Ed’s. It’s true.

So that’s about it. The 50 or so kilometers along the Mediterranean from Alassio to Sanremo rightly hold a place in the Great Hall of Legend. If you get the chance to have a go at it – don’t miss out on your chance to tread where the greats have gone before you.

*** See the race action LIVE on CYCLING TV***

For more fun, head to JeredGruber.com

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