We’re finally to the first Monument of the season, folks. Milan-San Remo is on deck, and we take a look at the race, the favorites, and when you can tune in.
Some of the greatest bicycle races in the world were born out of the simple and glorious statement, “You know what would be a good idea?” MSR is no different. La Primavera, la Classicissima, the first Monument of spring celebrates its 108th edition in 2017. It’s a pilgrimage from industrial Milan to the seaside city of San Remo. The race has changed over the years, but one constant remains; length.
It’s the longest race on the professional calendar, and even in its infancy, organizers pushed riders to the absolute limit. The first edition was 286km long, or 177 miles, with just over half of the registered riders even starting due to unseasonable cold. Only 14 finished, with the winning average speed of Lucien Petit-Breton coming in at around 17mph.
Weather is so often a factor in the race, as some recent editions remind us. Even modern equipment are no match for snow and ice at elevation, with organizers taking the step of halting and restarting the race in 2013. They also eliminated two of the route’s climbs and allowed dropped riders to restart with the main peloton. Many racers elected to let others contest the finish instead of returning to the cold, and Gerald Ciolek won the biggest race of his career, and one of his last victories on the WorldTour level.
It’s easy to imagine the scenes of similar conditions creating havoc in 1910. With no neutral support, no spare bikes, no team buses, and no climbs eliminated, riders were just trying to survive. Only 4 of 63 finished, with eventual winner Eugene Christophe (yes, that one) coming in over an hour ahead of second place. Christophe would recount later that he, like many riders, had stopped into a well-lit and warm house along route. While having something had and borrowing clothes while he hoped to dry his by the far, he saw a little bouncing figured through the falling snow. Surprised anyone was trying to finish, he returned to the race. Thinking himself lost, he won without any fanfare, as it was so cold few had waited to see the end.
Modern incarnations of the race have included myriad changes to the old formula. The Sprinter’s Classic, as it has been called, used to be a long procession with only one major ascent, the Passo del Turchino, coming hours from the finish. The organizers have injected more climbs, taken some out, slowly adding more hurdles to trip up the sprinters as they wind along the Ligurian coast and enter the hills of San Remo. Two climbs, Le Manie and La Pompeiia, were used in recent years but failed to affect the race. Instead, the Cipressa and the Poggio, coming at 22km and 4km, have most often dictated the winner.
The last four winners are sprinters by definition, but none came as a result of a large bunch sprint. Instead, a good portion of favorites have stayed together into the finale, in spite of some memorable efforts from Vicenzo Nibali, Fabian Cancellara, and other Classics riders on-form ahead of the cobbled races of Northern Europe. Last year’s winner, Arnaud Demare, was on fine form at Paris-Nice, but he dropped out to prepare himself. He’ll be a big favorite, but all the names sit in a small font next to the marquee rider of a generation, Peter Sagan.
The two-time and reigning World Champion has proven himself to be in perfect form, with his two stage wins at Tirreno-Adriatico putting a thick, bold underline on his status as peloton boss. Tirreno is the traditional stage race to prepare riders, and if he comes through well, Sagan is the big favorite. Other contenders include former winner John Degenkolb, Greg van Avermaet, Strade-Bianche winner Michael Kwiatkowski, and some interesting past winners. Alexander Kristoff and Mark Cavendish have won here before, but in Cav’s case, it’s been nearly a decade. It’s one he’s always wanted to repeat before he retires. For Kristoff, it would be a sign that his dominate season two years ago was no fluke.
Your best resource for live coverage is Steephill.tv, with video starting just after 8am EST and the finish expected around noon for Saturday, March 18.