It’s not the oldest Classic, that’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege which was first run in 1894. It’s not the physically most demanding Classic; that’s Paris-Roubaix and the pave or perhaps Flanders with the bergs and pave – but at almost 300 kilometres, Milan – Sanremo is the first, longest and most beautiful of the ‘Monuments’.
With so many kilometers in Milan Sanremo there’s plenty of time for spectators to admire the great scenery on offer.
The ‘Monuments’ are the four races already mentioned plus the late season Tour of Lombardy; these five events form the very DNA of the sport. The “Primavera” – Italian for ‘Spring Time’ – starts in the chill and grey of industrial Milan and heads south across the wide plains and coastal hills to the sea and (usually) sunny Sanremo with it’s flowers, faded grand hotels, casinos and jazz.
PEZ’s resident cycling sage and Nostradamus incarnate, Viktor says that the race should run from the foot of the Poggio to the finish – that would save a lot of time. But despite his huge wisdom he has it wrong on this one; it wouldn’t be Milan – Sanremo without those first 290 K before the Poggio, the final, and usually defining ascent on the fringes of Sanremo. But before those aesthetically unimpressive, big ringed but crucial 3,700 metres over the Poggio there’s a lot of ground to cover.
The new, ‘old’ parcours of the 2014 Milan Sanremo
The plains of Lombardy will see the inevitable early break spell through towns and villages where everyone from new born infants to great grandmothers will be roadside – it’s tradition. The Turchino Pass comes at half distance and the peloton and a flagging break ascend the coastal range before dropping like stones to west of Genoa and picking up the coast road along the glorious Ligurian Riviera.
The typical early break makes its way through the spectacular countryside in 2012
There’s no La Manie climb this year – a savage beast climbed soon after the coast road was joined and which did for Cav the other year; the ascent was dropped in favour of the even tougher Pompeiana climb which was to come much later in the day but has been left out due to the danger of landslides. If you’re a sad old purist like me this news was greeted with much relief – what we have for 2014 is the one which we’ve grown up with and love, almost identical to the 2007 and ‘original’ parcours. Where the sprinters should win; but don’t always – more of that later.
The last acts begin on the three Capi, a trio of small rises on the coast road; Mele, Cervo and Berta – you hardly notice them in a car, but at 240 K in and with Stijn Vandenbergh leading the peloton then they hurt, bad. The Cipressa comes at 270 K and it’s a real hill – the scene of Mario Cipollini’s demise on more than one occasion. There are 10 K to go when the survivors bank right off the coast road and head on to the Poggio . . .
The profiles of the famous Cipressa and Poggio climbs
The race was first held in 1907 when Frenchman, Lucien Petit-Breton took the laurels. This year’s edition will be number 105; the race only surrendered the 1916, 1944 and 1945 editions to the World Wars. Italy has won 50, Belgium 20, France 12, Germany six, Spain five, The Netherlands three, Ireland, Switzerland, Australia and Britain are all on two.
“Record-man” is Eddy Merckx of Belgium on seven wins between 1966 and 1976 – if there’s ever any doubt about who the greatest cyclist in history is, then that statistic dispels it. Second, behind Eddy in the palmares is the first of Italy’s Campionissimo, Costante Girardengo on six wins; another Italian legend, Gino Bartali triumphed four times; sharing that number of wins is German Erik Zabel (and yes, we know, he only kitted for one year, or was it two?) but it should really be five wins. He committed the novice’s error of throwing his hands up too early in victory celebration – not the best idea when Spanish fast man Oscar Freire is just an inch or two behind you.
And on the subject of ‘Oscar The Cat,’ the Cantabrian shares three wins with the second of Italy’s Campionissimo, Fausto Coppi and another man with a cool nickname, ‘Le Gitane’ – the Gypsy, Roger de Vlaeminck. Those names sum the Primavera up – a race for the very best.
Wins by ‘unknowns’ are rare and even the not-so-recognisable names on the roll of honour have a story behind them. Take Gabriele Colombo (Italy) who won in 1996; a very classy rider with a beautiful position on the bike and wins in the Tours of Calabria and Sardinia to his credit – just a shame he was a ‘party animal.’
Colombo (on left) attacking on the famous Poggio
Whilst it’s known as a “sprinters classic” with the likes of Zabel, Cipollini, Petacchi, Freire, Cavendish and Goss taking the flowers in the last decade, the solitary rider can still win. In 2006 the Italian with the “golden-boy” looks, Filippo Pozzato, slipped the bunch late-on to deny Petacchi his “double” whilst Cancellara did the same thing two years later and Gerrans won from a small break two years ago.
In recent years it’s been a good race for the ‘Anglos’ with Cav, Goss and Gerrans all triumphing. The first time English was spoken on the podium however, was almost 60 years ago in 1957 when 1961 Dauphine winner and twice Tour de France stage winner, Brian Robinson from Yorkshire, England took third behind Spanish sprinter, Miguel Poblet. It was 1964 before another Englishman topped the podium, the legend that was, Tom Simpson.
Another 20 years passed before Sean Kelly of Ireland took third place in 1984 before winning in 1986 and 1992. The ’92 win was his last big triumph, a death-defying solo drop down the Poggio saw him bridge-up to Italian star, Moreno Argentin who was seemingly heading for a lone-win in the grand style – until Kelly arrived. Sanremo was quiet that Saturday afternoon.
Sean Kelly’s epic win from 1992
Greg Lemond of the USA was second to Kelly on the Via Roma in 1986 and in 2002 it took “Super Mario” Cipollini at the peak of his powers to prevent Pez contributor Fred Rodriguez from giving the stars and stripes an airing in the roll of honour.
And now, down to business – who’s gonna win?
There will be 200 riders on the start line; eight each from 25 teams, 18 World Tour and seven Pro Continental. Seven of the race’s last nine winners ride: Alessandro Petacchi (2005), Filippo Pozzato (2006), Fabian Cancellara (2008), Mark Cavendish (2009), Matt Goss (2011), Simon Gerrans (2012) and Gerald Ciolek (2013) – the 2007 and 2010 races were won by the retired Oscar Freire.
At this stage we have to mention that statistically a rider places himself at a disadvantage by riding Paris-Nice; he’s much more likely to win if he rides Tirreno-Adriatico which lasts two days longer than the French race and suits the peaking process much better.
Just to be different we’ve introduced a new grading system; but please bear in mind that there may be changes to the start list after we go to press:
One of the men of the season so far is Alejandro Valverde (Movistar & Spain) a winner in The Ruta Del Sol and in Lazio (Maxima?!) the Poggio is made for him; but holding off the charging wildebeest on the descent then riding through the streets of Sanremo at speeds that would have Scotty complaining to Jim Kirk aren’t his cup of tea.
A man we’d have put in there, if just for the experience, is up and coming Moreno Hofland (The Netherlands & Belkin) he won in The Ruta, was close to Boonen at Kuurne and won again in the Race to the Sun.
# Going well and participating but . . .
It’s a similar story to Valverde with Haut Var and Paris-Nice winner Carlos Betancur (AG2R & Colombia); despite those huge thighs he may go clear on the Poggio but would be washed away soon after.
Tom-Jelte Slagter (Garmin & The Netherlands) is another man who’s on fire – two stage wins in Paris-Nice endorse that but he doesn’t strike us as heavy weight enough for the final rampage.
# Rapid French Guys:
And all from the same equipe; FDJ.fr – the latest incarnation of Marc Madiot’s French Lottery sponsored team. There’s handsome French Champion, Arthur Vichot fresh of a final stage win in Paris-Nice. Nacer Bouhanni won the first stage of the same race and is quick, as is Arnaud Démare a stage winner in Qatar and close in Tirreno.
Could recent PEZ interviewee Arnaud Démare be the man on Sunday?
Add in also Yoann Offredo who loves this race and is always ‘there’ in the finale. A podium is just possible for one of them if they get the tactics right.
Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff & Czech Republic) looked very strong in Tirreno and he’ll be there on the Poggio. Ian Stannard (Sky & GB) has been consistently strong all year, topping it off with an excellent win in Het Nieuwsblad. He was sixth here last year in similarly apocalyptic conditions to his win in Nieuwsblad. He’s one of the very few whom we could imagine holding off the stampede to win solo.
Kreuziger on his way to Amstel glory last year.
Taylor Phinney (BMC & USA) is another in the Stannard mould and with gold plated time trial credentials – he was the one who had us saying; ‘who the heck is that?’ last year as he almost bridged up to the break in the closing stages in streets of Sanremo. He won in Oman, was strong in Nieuwsblad and hid in Paris-Nice, it’s possible.
Alex Kristoff (Katusha & Norway) remember the London Olympics; he took bronze in the road race. He thrives on long, tough races and gets that little bit better each year – he was top ten last year.
But we’re surprised to see no mention of team mate Luca Paolini on the provisional start sheet; he loves this race, has been on the podium in the past and just seems to get stronger as he gets older.
Simon Clarke (GreenEdge & Australia) is like Kristoff, he excels when the going is gruelling – we fancy him more than team mates and previous winners Matt Goss and Simon Gerrans, especially if a little group prizes itself clear.
Gerald Ciolek (MTN & Germany) we tipped him last year when no one else did, this year he’s won a stage in The Ruta and was top ten in le Samyn; plus he’s reigning champion and won’t go out without a fight – and his Pro Continental team mates will ride ‘til they drop for him.
John Degenkolb (Giant & Germany) with three stage wins in the Tour of the Mediterranean, one in Paris-Nice; the points classement in both races and also in the Etoile des Besseges there’s no need to ask about his form. He was fifth in 2012 and with team ‘all for John,’ he’ll be right there on Sunday.
Andre Greipel (Lotto & Germany) there have been stage wins Down Under and in Qatar and Oman but QuickStep did for him in Kuurne on the Oude Kwaremont – and they’ll probably do the same again on the Cipressa.
Sacha Modolo (Lampre & Italy) Modolo was fourth here as a neo-pro in 2010. The move up to World Tour has caused him few problems and already he’s he won in San Luis, twice in Majorca and in The Algarve. He was quiet in Tirreno but make no mistake, he’ll want this one bad. He has past winner Pippo Pozzato as a chaperone and Diego Ulissi as their attack dog – a podium for Sacha.
We don’t see team mate and World Champion Rui Costa on the provisional start list but that could change and much depends how he recovers from that spectacular finale crash in Nice.
# Super Favourites:
Fabian Cancellara (Trek & Switzerland) it’s tempting to say that Fabian must be approaching his ‘sell by’ date – but we said that last year and he won E3, Flanders and Roubaix and was third into Sanremo. Sixth in the Strade Bianche and 2nd in the Tirreno time trial are his best results so far in 2014, but it means nothing, he’s a master of getting it right on the day. He can win again (he won in 2008, was second in ’11 and ’12 then third in ’13) but it has to be solo – something that’s ever harder to do as the margins between the ‘Bigs’ fitness become ever closer.
Fab towing Simon Gerrans clear for the win in 2012 – if Cancellara is to win it has to be solo
Peter Sagan (Cannondale & Slovakia) is a force of nature; that’s why Alonso reckons he’s worth four million Euros per season. The form is maturing just right – witness Tirreno – he was fourth in Sanremo in 2012 and second last year so he’ll win – so does that mean he’ll be third and win next year or vice versa?
There’s just one fly in the ointment . . .
That legendary finish in ’09
Mark Cavendish (QuickStep & GB) if he’s there at the top of the Poggio, he’ll win. He’s the fastest, bravest and smartest when it comes to the maddest of finishes. The laminated floor men have the Boonen card to play but it’s just a little too early for Tom, his main objectives are to the north, next month.
And of course there’s Kwiatkowski too – but our bet is that it’s ‘all for Mark.’ And with Ale Jet Petacchi as his lead-out man deluxe no one is going to beat him – check out stage six of Tirreno if you don’t agree.
We say Cav from Sagan and Modolo with Degenkolb close.
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 1,100 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.