After 266km, you can bet these last two ‘bumps’ are gonna hurt.
There are 27.6 kilometres to go when you leave the coast road and take a right on to the Cipressa; it’s twistier and steeper than it looks on the TV. Soon the village is behind and it’s into those olive groves where, if you were a Super Mario fan in the 90’s, you would be looking anxiously for the big man, hoping he wouldn’t slip out of the back. The surface is OK as the Mediterranean comes into view and the lefts, rights and olive groves continue. There were camper vans up there already!
Which way to the Cipressa?
Well before the top you can see the church tower which marks the summit, depending on how your legs feel, it’s a spur or a spear. The road crosses high above the autostrada tunnel and still those hairpins continue, but it flattens-out towards the top.
Ya gotta stake out your spot early.
There are more camper vans as you enter the village, where the road narrows before it throws itself down the slope towards the coast. The views are stunning but the hairpins are tight and dangerous although the road is well surfaced.
The descent off the Cipressa.
This is glass house country now and they sparkle in the sun. Half way down and the banner says; ’20 kilometres to go’, you can’t let the concentration slip though, one error and your grab for immortality has to wait for another year.
Gettin some practice in before the big game.
Back on the coast road, it looks flat but there’s a long drag straight off the climb, it’s a fast surface though and not too technical; time to gather your thoughts, drink, look-around and prepare for what’s about to come. Through Riva Ligure and it’s greenhouses it’s flat and fast and there are 15 to go.
San Remo is round the next headland on the coast road, but not today. The riders won’t have rush-hour traffic like we did; another drag and into the Casteletti tunnel, it’s real close now. Sean Yates used to crucify himself on this stretch to get Lance to the front.
Bussana, it drags, then dips, there’s the San Remo marina on the left, but we’re going right – onto altogether holier ground. The Poggio – it’s tough from the start and steeper than the Cipressa, some of the hairpins are very tight and cost you a lot of time if you get it wrong.
Watch out for those tight switchbacks…those walls are closer than they look.
The middle part is straighter and flatter but the hairpins come again and it rears-up near the summit where the camper vans are gathering. You can see the top now, a church, some none too stylish houses and you’re there – no false-flat just a couple of bars, some petrol pumps and a 135 degree left and there’s more desperation now; you can’t get distanced on the decent, there’s so little time to make it up from the bottom of the climb to the finish.
Over the top is game time – sure the climb is hard, but over the top is crucial, and the descent is only for the toughest.
The hairpins start immediately, the surface is choppy and some of the bends are wild – ask former world pursuit champion Alain Bondue of France, a crash here, when in the lead with countryman Marc Gomez (who went on to win) cost him the 1982 edition.
There won’t be too many racing tomorrow that notice the view.
There’s one last hairpin, it flattens -out and you are in the streets of San Remo, where Sean Kelly caught ‘home boy’, Moreno Argentin to win in 1992. Corso F. Cavalotti drops gently and it was here that Samuel Sanchez started the move that would see last year’s Primavera go to ‘Pippo’.
Hardy orange trees display their fruit beside the side walks despite the clouds of petrol and two-stroke fumes. You can see way-ahead from here, Max Sciandri let Gabriele Colombo slip-away to grab the win here in 1996.
It’s the last K, a 90 left a short, fast straight, dropping towards the sea – there’s the fountain, right and we’re n the Via Roma; narrower than it looks on TV and lifting ever so slightly before levelling at the line. That line brings fame and riches to the man who crosses it first – for the rest it’s a broken heart and nothing; do you remember who was second last year?