Milan-San Remo - An underdog win
It's a race for the sprinter, except when it isn't.
The Italian painting La Primavera, also known as the Allegory of Spring, shows a group of mythological characters enjoying the change in weather. Bike racing also has its La Primavera, Milan-San Remo. Starting outside Milan the race covers 280 kilometers to finish on the streets of San Remo.
Like the La Primavera painting, the race is one of the most popular events on the calendar. Perhaps it’s because this is the first big monument of the season with a rich 107 year history. It’s a race won by the greats in the sport: Gino Bartali (four times), Fausto Coppi (three times), Eddy Merckx (seven times), Roger De Vlaeminck (three times), Sean Kelly (twice), to name just a few.
Typically the race ends in a field sprint. Or from a small group. Or solo.
Kelly famously descended the Poggio, the final hill of the day, like a mad man to catch a solo Moreno Argentin. With a little over a kilometer remaining Kelly caught and crushed him in the sprint for the victory.
Coppi famously went for the long solo attack to take the flowers in San Remo. Those were the days when an attack with still several climbs remaining was not unheard of.
In contrast, Fabian Cancellara attacked from a group of seven in 2008 with three kilometers to the line and took the win.
Recently the fast-men have reclaimed this monument called the “sprinter’s classic.” Erik Zabel, Mario Cipollini, Oscar Freire, Alessandro Petacchi, and Mark Cavendish each claimed San Remo in a bunch sprint.
However, the last three editions have been won from a select group that tore themselves away from the peloton: Matthew Goss (2011), Simon Gerrans (2012), and this past Sunday, Gerald Ciolek of MTN-Qhubeka.
So there you have it: Milan - San Remo is the sprinter’s classic except when it’s not. Or when it is won from a small group. Or solo.
That’s why there’s much love for this early season classic. It pretends to be predictable with its long distance and multiple hills - none long enough to tip the advantage to a pure climber.
According to Strava the fastest recorded time up the Poggio (3.6 kilometers long, 3.7% gradient) is seven minutes and three seconds by a Louis Vervaeke. I’m guessing Mr. Vervaeke didn’t start his training ride that day in Milan with a ProTour peloton, so actual times may be different. The Cipressa (5.6% kilometers long, 4% gradient) is the penultimate climb on the Milan-San Remo menu and the time to the summit is clocked at 12 minutes and eight seconds by “Pivens.”
These are power climbs where a huge amount of watts separates the contenders from the pretenders. The riders propel themselves up so fast they hit the brakes as they round the many uphill switchbacks so they don’t bounce off the retaining walls. When was the last time you grabbed a handful of brake because you were climbing so fast around a corner? Yeah, I thought so.
These climbs aren’t especially challenging on their own, but mix in the constant up and down