It’s seven hours of waiting followed by 30 minutes of the best racing of the year.
With some 260 kilometers of pedaling before the racing even begins, Milano-Sanremo is either your favorite race of the year or a snoozy waste of half of your weekend. So, does that electric final shakeout over the Poggio and dash down the Via Roma make all those hours of waiting worth it?
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It’s easy to bash Milano-Sanremo. It’s long, it’s mostly boring until its effervescent finale, and it’s lost some of its luster to younger upstarts like Strade Bianche.
Yet Milano-Sanremo has a few things in its favor that make it unique among the monuments. Unlike its rugged companions in the monuments club, it’s the most forgiving. The list of would-be winners for the “classicissima” is longer than just about any race. And since so many riders think they can win, it is also one of the hardest races to win. That cooked-in uncertainty helps create the absolutely thrilling finale that gives Sanremo its charm.
Thank goodness organizers have resisted the pressure to spice up the finale by adding some extra vertical with a new climb or a finishing circuit into the mix. The Cipressa-Poggio combo and Via Roma finale are sacred turf in cycling. Even as racing changes, the route stays the same.
Sure, the racing is old-school piano on the flats south of Milano and over the Turchino pass (not featured this year due to road damage), things definitely spice up on the coast road. At nearly 300km, it’s the longest race on the calendar, yet it’s also one of the most unpredictable.
In the monuments, all the magic happens in the final hour of racing. And, in the case of Milano-Sanremo, the final 20 minutes. Once the flares are fired on the Cipressa and the big guns go on the Poggio, it’s a crossfire all the way to the line. I wouldn’t change a thing — pure racing bliss.
Total snooze-fest. Who wants to watch the peloton soft-tapping its way across Italy all day?
It will probably be wet and cold, they’ll all be bundled up in raincoats and leg-warmers that make them hard to pick out, and not a thing happens. The highlights of the first six or seven hours are when a rider has a bike change and the commentators suddenly get excited there’s something to talk about having droned on about some nonsense for the past 20km.
However, it’s that very marathon narrative that makes the race so awesome.
Fire up your coffee machine and load up GCN/Eurosport/Flo [insert chosen broadcaster here] before your morning ride and watch the bleary-eyed peloton as it pedals out of Milan. Come back three hours later, fire up the coffee machine again, and, oh, look there they are, still tapping away.
Sanremo’s slow-burn makes it a journey that you have rolling in the background through the day, like a talk radio station or a cricket test match. And it just starts to spice up at mid-afternoon when it’s time to crack open an under-the-radar Saturday beer – perfect, right!?
Milano-Sanremo’s ridiculous length – a solid 40km longer than even Liège-Bastogne-Liège or Paris-Roubaix – is what makes it special in a pro cycling scene that is slowly turning toward shorter, more aggressive stages in grand tours and seeing races like the firecracker four hours of Strade Bianche become increasingly popular. The WorldTour needs ol’ grandpas like “La Primavera” to keep pro cycling’s toe in its incredibly rich history and heritage.
I say, revel in the marathon that is Sanremo. Imagine you’re settling down to watch The Godfather boxset rather than an episode of Breaking Bad. Embrace the snooze and the sizzling ending is all the more rewarding.
Eugène Christophe marche dans la neige du Passo del Turchino. C'est l'une des très rares photos de l'invraisemblable Milan-San Remo 1910. pic.twitter.com/Ja2lkPgUb3
— David Guénel (@davidguenel) March 17, 2021