In 1907 Italian sports newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport organised the first Milan – San Remo and the passion has continued to grow for what is now the longest classic race in the UCI calendar. Steeped in history and commitment Milan – San Remo has a story to tell and many riders have taken their turn to write a chapter in what is becoming one of the greatest books ever written.
Since 1907 the race has only failed to start three times: 1916, 1944 and 1945 and has been shown live on television since 1954. There has been several changes to the race since 1907 and in 1960 the famous Poggio was added and with the addition of the Cipressa in 1982 a new challenge for those who took part emerged.
My favourite chapter in Milan – San Remo’s book was that of 1910. Won by the Frenchman Eugenio Christophe, the severe conditions created 20cm of snow on the Turchino Pass and a cold that would have 61 competitors drop out during the race, leaving only 4 to finish. After 12 and a half hours and an average speed of 23.33 km/hr, Christophe crossed the line. It would take a month in hospital to recover from the race and a further 2 years to fully recover. His story can be read here: http://www.milansanremo.co.uk/1910story.htm
For the first time in the history of the race the 2001 stage would not include the Turchino Pass due to mud slides caused by torrential rains in February and it would be Erik Zabel that would take victory in San Remo for the fourth and last time in his career.
Simon Gerran’s of Orica GreenEDGE will return this year to defend his title; however he has already stated that he is not the race favourite as he has been suffering from illness since Paris Nice. So if Gerran’s isn’t targeting to be first across the line and Mark Cavendish has recently been interviewed to say that winning is not a priority for him, who will take the reins this season?
The people’s favourite has to be Cannondale’s Peter Sagan, already the Slovakian has claimed 5 stage wins and a second at Strade Bianchi this season and it is only just beginning. However, Fabian Cancellara will be desperate to add another Milan-San Remo victory to his palmares and if he can shake off the “marked man” stigma attached to him he may just pull it off.
Matt Goss returns this season as well and as a previous winner in 2011 he knows what to do to cross that line. The entire Orica GreenEdge line up is rather impressive and with Matty’s latest stage win at Tirreno Adriatico he is full of confidence that may just give him the inspiration to celebrate yet another early season win.
We can’t forget about Phillippe Gilbert, another rider who has many people thinking that he will take the win at the end of the day. Gilbert has not been giving much away recently when it comes to his form so it is hard to tell if he has been bluffing or he is just not race ready for an overall 1st place win yet and with the rainbow jersey on his back he may just be suffering from the infamous curse of the world champion.
Milan San Remo seems to be a race won by the big names likely because of the length of the course itself, or the descent of the Poggio where an inexperienced rider can lose valuable seconds. What the riders need to be aware of is that so many races are lost by not taking a chance. So many times you see a breakaway stay ahead because the chasing group or the peloton is not willing to take up the front and attack. This is one of Cancellara’s biggest downfalls, he angers when others won’t help him take up the chase and decides to stay behind rather than leave them all in his dust.
Heinrich Haussler (I AM Cycling) or Paul Martens (Blanco) are my outside picks for the race. Both have had impressive results in the past and are experienced classic riders but have not been mentioned as race favourites possibly just due to the sheer amount of big names riding in this Sundays race.
Whoever wins the race does generally provide an exciting finish as riders fight for their place at the top of the podium. It is the beginning of the Classics and time for us to turn off the phone and the computer and experience the true joy and excitement pro-cycling has to offer.