Cipressa e Poggio

Milano-Sanremo, first held in 1907, is one of the oldest bike races in the world and, at 298km, is also the longest race on the World Tour. It is one of the five Monuments, the group of the most famous one-day races on the calendar, and it’s the first one to be run every season, hence its alternate name “La Primavera”. The race is largely flat but it’s the distance that takes its toll, so the question becomes who has anything left in the legs when the final climbs come in the run in to Sanremo.

I had intended riding Col de la Madone yesterday but a comedy of errors meant it never happened. Driving down from Milan, I chose to take the coastal route as followed by the race which of course was subject to local afternoon traffic. I ended up arriving later than intended so, after checking in & grabbing a bite to eat I opted to drive to Menton and just ride Col de la Madone from there. However, my newly acquired Italian SIM stopped working as soon as I crossed the border into France, so that meant no more maps or net or phone connection.

Rather than relying on my French to try to get directions back to Italy (easy outside a town, but pain in the arse in a town, with one-way streets and circuitous routes everywhere) I decided to turn around while I could still retrace my steps and call it a day. I managed to find a shop still open and load some credit onto my SIM so that the SmartPassport feature would work the next day for the drive to Bédoin.

Today it was up at dawn (jet-lag helped) and time to ride the last 20km of Milano-Sanremo.

Neither the Cipressa or the Poggio are mountains. They’re barely even hills and they’re both the sort of climbs that you could find around Sydney. However, as the last two climbs in Milano-Sanremo they are steeped in cycling history and a perfect wake-up for the legs after the flight from Oz.

There’s a nice bike path along the coast from Sanremo to San Lorenzo al Mare which is also famous, having featured as the Grande Partenza, or first stage, of the 2015 Giro d’Italia, used as part of a team time-trial route, so it was cycling history right from the start of the ride. The weather was perfect - slightly chilly, but early-morning sun gradually warming things up and it was a flat 20km out to the turnaround, at which point the real fun started.

First climb up was la Cipressa, 5.6km at 4%. Typically, in MSR, la Cipressa is ridden hard to stress the sprinters, but there’s never any real attacks. I cruised up it, soaking it all in. Unlike Newtown where you’re likely to have some graffiti art on your house wall, here instead there’s plenty of paint left by fans exhorting their heroes to greatness. Most of it seemed to be directed at John Degenkolb, the 2015 winner, along with some Italians like Bonifazio.

The descent off the Cipressa was great fun. The roads are in great condition and there wasn’t much traffic, though I still had to be a bit cautious as I didn’t know the road at all.

After a few km of flat road along the coast, it was time for the Poggio (3.6km @ 4%). This is raced full blast and an attack usually goes about 1km from the top. The descent is tricky and, since the bottom is only a few km from the finish, it’s possible for good descenders to hold their advantage to the line. For me it was a nice cruise, though I did find myself putting in a bit more effort than I’d intended, caught up in the history no doubt.

It’s quite an odd feeling knowing you’re riding one of the most famous climbs in all of cycling, while at the same time watching all these small-lot farmers getting their day started. My only previous experience of il Poggio was seeing the race live on TV, with the road closed and lined with fans. Riding up it sharing the road with locals in their micro-vans is a little different.

At the top there’s a sharp left turn and the descent begins. In real life, it’s a much wider T-junction and I had to wait for a white Audi to pass before I could get going. The advantage was that I then had something to chase down the descent. I was quicker through the bends, but he could obviously out-accelerate me on the straights. I managed to catch him two-thirds of the way down as a series of tight bends took their toll, but he was able to get away from me again on the following straight. Great fun though without needing to be reckless.

The descent over with, it was a sedate ride to the finish line as local traffic on the main road meant it wasn’t worth the risk trying to “race” to the finish.

Highly recommended if you’re in the area.

PS: I have descent videos, but they’ll have to wait until I have a decent net connection. I’m not sure uploading almost a GB from a rural Italian B&B would be appreciated.