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14-03-2024 | Marcel van Herten

Milan-San Remo: la classicissima di primavera del ciclismo

If you articulate this headline with a flourish of Italian accent, you'll captivate the attention of many cycling aficionados. Their anticipation is palpable, knowing it's time for Milano-Sanremo, the singular spring classic in the cycling world!

In Flanders, the fervent anticipation for the "High Mass" (Tour of Flanders) mirrors the excitement brewing among the Italian tifosi for weeks now. And indeed, the fusion of language, culture, and passion in Italy intensifies the experience of ciclismo like nowhere else. Picture this: sun-kissed faces, slick hairstyles, neatly tailored polos (collars raised), fashionable sunglasses, robust espressos, the iconic La Gazetta dello Sport, early blooming bougainvillea, inviting spring weather, clear blue skies, a slender coastal stretch with sandy shores, challenging hills, and a vibrant, multicolored cycling peloton. Ed ecco qua: Milan – Sanremo.

Capo di tutti Capi

Uttering Milan - Sanremo (MSR) instantly evokes thoughts of 300 km, Poggio, and Cipressa. MSR is marked by its extended, demanding route. Then, in the final 25 kilometers of nearly 275, the race ignites on the renowned and cherished capi. These hills ascend from the coastal route, reaching the Alpine foothills, leading to idyllic villages and stunning vistas. The sequence is Mele, Cervo, Berta, and Cipressa. And let's not overlook the Capo di tutti Capi (the boss of all hills): Poggio di Sanremo, where the decisive moment, or at least the critical turning point, often unfolds in MSR.

Watching from the comfort of a couch, these hills may not seem particularly daunting. Yet, for the average cyclist, ascending to the villages of Cipressa and Poggio is a considerable challenge. Here are some statistics from our partner Climbfinder:

  • Cipressa: 5,6 km / average slope: 4,1%, max 7,9% / 231m+ / KOM 7:49 / QOM 10:05 (ref: Strava)
  • Poggio di Sanremo: 3,6 km / average slope: 3,8%, max 7,3% / 137m+ / KOM 5:36 / QOM 7:07 (ref: Strava)

Truth be told, both climbs are too breathtakingly beautiful for an all-out, frenzied ascent. Yet, their legendary status in the capi ensures a place on the bucket list for numerous cycling fans. Naturally, there's a curiosity to measure oneself against the likes of Pogi, MVDP, Pedersen, or other giants of ciclismo. As you weave through olive groves, the stunning views of the Ligurian coast and the Sanremo bay are truly mesmerizing. Both ascents are relatively steady, unlikely to overly tax (fresh) legs. With the right rhythm, even the big ring becomes a feasible option.

Also for 'normal' riders!

Milan - Sanremo is definitely not an exclusive playground for professionals. True to Italian tradition, the day after the pro event, there's a gran fondo version of the famed race, covering the same course (or parts of it). Saturday is for watching the pros, but Sunday, the day of famiglia, transforms you into a genuine star as you're cheered on along Via Roma like a true campionissimo. However, there's a slight twist with Milan - Sanremo.

The day following the professional race, this year on March 17, the Granfondo Sanremo Sanremo takes place. You'll be spectating on Saturday, but come Sunday, you'll be tackling a different yet equally rewarding route. Starting in Sanremo, the journey first leads to Port Maurizio along the coast. Then, it ventures inland, with two challenging climbs through the foothills of the Maritime Alps, peaking at about 500m above sea level. Following a lengthy descent, you'll return to the coast at San Lorenzo al Mare, setting the stage for the iconic ascent of Cipressa.

From the base of the climb, you'll trace (partly) the route of MSR. Post-descent, the coastal road is abandoned briefly for a diversion through the villages of Terzorio and Pompeiana. Due to the less-than-ideal asphalt quality, these capi have not been included in the pro race's final segment. Following a spirited descent, you're 8 kilometers away from the grand finale: reaching the renowned phone booth atop the Poggio di Sanremo. While it's not Via Roma, a leisurely ride there afterwards for the mandatory selfie by the world-famous fountain or the celebrated casino is a must.

For those eager to tackle the entire MSR route, circle June 9 on your calendar for the Granfondo Milano Sanremo. Spanning 300 kilometers, the ride won't start at Milan's Duomo or finish on Via Roma, but it faithfully follows the original route, including the Passo del Turchino and all the legendary capi.

Beautiful cycling destination

Sanremo, the heart of the Flower Riviera with its charming beaches, fine dining, and impressive architecture (albeit a bit dated in places), is rapidly gaining recognition as a prime cycling destination. A few years ago, a decommissioned coastal railway line was transformed into a cycle path, complete with smooth asphalt, well-lit tunnels (galeria), and tributes to the area's rich cycling history. The hinterlands of Sanremo offer splendid and mostly traffic-free climbs, and the general respect for cyclists in Italy makes for enjoyable rides. Coupled with the agreeable subtropical climate, these factors create the perfect mix for an excellent cycling experience.

Other gran fondo's

If you're planning to visit Sanremo or the surrounding region and are looking to participate in a great gran fondo, there are several notable events throughout the year. Each of these carries the quintessential Italian vibe, typically starting after the Sunday mass (around 10:00-10:30h). These rides generally range from 100 to 125 km, featuring a fair amount of climbing, usually between 1,500 to 2,500 meters of elevation gain.

Does the mere mention of Poggio di Sanremo, Via Roma, Cipressa, Capo Berta, Passo del Turchino, and Corso Imperatrice stir excitement within you? Do you wish to channel the spirit of the legendary Girardengo, a six-time winner of MSR? Then, embrace the call of cycling's illustrious spring classic: Ci vediamo a Sanremo per la classicissima di primavera del ciclismo! (See you in Sanremo for the spring classic of cycling).

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