Saturday, March 21, 2015

La Classicissima di Primavera

San Remo is a beautiful city situated on the Mediterranean coast of northwest Italy. Founded during the Roman empire it is one of the most prized locations on the Italian Riviera. Despite being known as a world renowned luxury travel destination, the city has always played second fiddle (albeit a close second) to the jewel of the French Riviera - Monte Carlo. As such the history of San Remo is dotted with attempts to "catch up" to the Côte d' Azur which sits a mere 50 km to the west. 

The most famous of these attempts resulted in the legendary Casino Municipio, a sprawling art nouveau building which to this day remains the cultural center of the city. Arguably the second most famous attempt resulted in what has become the true beginning of the road cycling classics season and one of the renowned Monuments of cycling. 

It was however, the race that nearly didn't happen. First discussed in 1906, the idea was to create a sporting event that would raise the level of San Remo's stature across all of Europe. A group of select San Remo citizens and businessmen approached the owner of La Gazetto Dello Sport - the country's leading sporting news paper  - about sponsoring a race that would begin in Milan and end in their beloved San Remo. The problem was that another group had tried a similar feat the earlier that very year with an auto rally along a nearly identical route. The 1905 San Remo Rally was an unmitigated disaster with only 2 of the 33 automobiles managing to finish the course over the rough roads covering nearly 300km of the Italian countryside. La Gazetto Dello Sport's co-owner E.C. Castomagna understandably had little faith that cyclists riding the single geared race bikes of modern day 1906 would fare any better on those same roads. He did show the San Remo group a ray of hope, if they could prove that cyclists could make the trip from Milan over the Turchino pass while at the same time organizing funding for the race he would agree to have the paper support the race. 

Luckily for them (and for all of us) another future monument of cycling had been run for the first time the year before. The equally legendary Giro di Lombardia had launched in 1905 with support from the Gazetto group and it's first winner - Giovanni Gerbi (one of the earliest proven cheats in cycling, but that's another story) - was widely known to train on the very roads that would make up the MSR. It was easy to convince Gerbi and a small group of other riders to prove that the race course was valid. They did so later in 1906 and the support from both the city and the paper was confirmed. It was announced at the end of that year that the first ever Milano - San Remo cycling race would be held on April 14th, 1907 and the rest, as they say is history. 

Over the last 108 years the race has taken on the mythical status afforded to all of cycling's monuments. A trip to the top step of the podium in San Remo is all the palmare's a rider needs to consider his career a success. The history of winners is long and elite with names like Christophe, Pélissier, Binda, Olmo, Bartali, Cinelli, Coppi, Poulidor, Van Looy,  Simpson, De Vlaeminck, Fignon, Zabel, Friere, Bettini and of course the great 7 time winner Eddy Merckx. Recent times have seen the race crown such legendary careers as Petacchi, Cavendish and Cancellara and add weight to up and comers such as Ciolek, Gerrans and last year's winner Alexander Kristoff. 

Known affectionately as the "Sprinters Classic" the opportunity for a frenzied group sprint is always there, and has been the large percentage of the race endings over the history of the event. However, there is always the opportunity for a break up the legendary Poggio climb. 

Situated just under 10 km from the finish in San Remo, the Poggio is only 3.7 km long with an average gradient of 3.7% and spikes of over 9%. Being situated so close to the end of the longest one day race on the calendar adds a unique opportunity for the rouleurs and puncheurs of the peloton to put the hammer down and distance the sprinter's teams at the crest and then fly down the descent as they try to hold off the pack for the remaining 2.3 km. Hardmen such as Cancellara, Gilbert, Sagan and Stybar (assuming Cav is no longer in the mix) will no doubt take their chances on this climb and descend with abandon to earn their shot at glory with a smaller group. 

It's an opportunity to place themselves among the immortals of the sport. These are the days that these athletes have dreamed about all of their lives and that fans such as ourselves wait quite impatiently for every spring. The Milan - San Remo rarely, if ever, disappoints and the odds are good that tomorrows 106th edition will provide the the same type of excitement for this generation as it has been for multiple generations over the last century plus.  

The action starts at 2:00 am Pacific time and the earliest live video I'm seeing is showing a go live time of 6:00 am PDT. As always the place to go is: While many of the live feeds remain country restricted, there are always a few that will allow you to witness the beauty of cycling in all it's one day glory. 

Viva la Primavera!!