Milan – San Remo: the long and short of it

It’s time for the longest race on the calendar. A UCI ruling means no race can be longer than 250km but an exception is made for the 298km Milan-San Remo. First held in 1907, the race is another symbolic event where riders leave the often grey and grizzly industrialised Milan for the sunshine and palm trees of the Mediterranean.

The Long

It is a massively long race but as the profile shows, it’s without detail until Ovada at 115km where the Passo Turchino (pronounced “Turk-eeno”) lifts the race away from the plains of Lombardy and if the weather is good the rides will get a glimpse of the sea. This year’s version includes the climb and descent of La Manie, it’s been added to break up the race a bit.

The Short
Invariably things will really get going as the race crosses the Capi or small capes on the coast, especially the Cipressa and the Poggio. Both are unremarkable climbs, you’d probably spin up them, poggio even means “bump” or “hillock”. But the race knows these are the key strategic points and so everyone is desperate to be at the front of the bunch, meaning the speed is high, bordering on insane as the race flicks along the coast.

Often the race comes down to the final moments of the Poggio, the strongest riders will attack on the climb – watch the likes of Philippe Gilbert – but their gap at the top is what matters. A twisting descent awaits and any escaped riders will need a cushion on the bunch to hold off the chase.

Attack or Sprint?
Mark Cavendish won last year’s race in a sprint and some say it’s a sprinters’ classic. But for me it depends on the weather. Strong winds or rain should be enough to break things up, although the forecast predicts calm conditions. Perhaps a sprint is likely but after 290km, anything can happen, that’s why a small hill is so strategic.

There’s never an obvious favourite for this race as it’s just not hard enough to whittle the giant bunch down to a few players. I’ve got my eye on Alessandro Pettachi. Why? Well, because I think a bunch sprint is possible and he’s a wily old rider now who should be able to barge his way into the right position during the descent. But I’d like to see a more exciting rider like Gilbert or Boasson Hagen take the win.

All told, it’s a beautiful race but ironic that the longest race on the calendar is often dictated by the final 10km.