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14-03-2022 | Marcel van Herten

Milaan-San Remo: la classicissima di primavera del ciclismo

If you can pronounce this article title with an Italian accent, you will make sure that most cycling fans will listen to you. Their mouths are watering because they know that the time has come: Milano-Sanremo, the one and only spring classic in cycling!

Whereas in Flanders people are feverishly awaiting the "High Mass" (the Tour of Flanders), the tifosi have been in a state of exhilaration for weeks about what is to come. And let's face it. The combination of language, culture and passion means that nowhere ciclismo is as intensely experienced as among the Italians. Add to that: tanned faces, slicked-back hair, tightly cut polos (with the collar up), styled sunglasses, strong espresso, La Gazetta dello Sport, the first blooming bougainvillea, lovely spring weather, blue skies, a narrow coastal strip with sandy beaches, spicy hills and a multicolored raised cycling peloton. Ed ecco qua: Milaan – Sanremo.

Capo di tutti Capi

Say Milan - Sanremo (MSR) and you saying 300 km, Poggio and Cipressa in one breath. MSR is characterized by its long, grueling approach. Then, after almost 275 kilometers, in the last 25 kilometers the race explodes on the famous and beloved capi. The capi are the hills that take you from the coastal road a level higher on the foothills of the Alps to idyllic villages and beautiful views. In order: Mele, Cervo, Berta and Cipressa. And not forgetting the Capo di tutti Capi (the boss of all hills): the Poggio di Sanremo. The climb where for many years the decision, or at least the Vorentscheidung, happens in MSR.

While sitting on the couch watching a raging pro peloton, these don't seem like worthy calves breakers. However, the average mortal will have to push hard to climb to the villages of Cipressa and Poggio. Some figures from our partner Climbfinder:

  • Cipressa: 5,6 km / average slope: 4,1%, max 7,9% / 231m+ / KOM 9:57 / QOM 12:27
  • Poggio di Sanremo: 3,6 km / average slope: 3,8%, max 7,3% / 137m+ / KOM 5:41 / QOM 7:07

Actually, both climbs are far too beautiful to bang on like crazy. But the iconic past of the capi ensures that they are on the bucket list for many cycling enthusiasts. And then you do want to see how the proportions are between you and Alaphilippe, MVDP, Van Aert or one of those other godsons of ciclismo. But the views of the Ligurian coast and the bay of Sanremo are fantastic as you meander through the olive groves. Both climbs are quite gradual and therefore will not really hurt (fresh) legs. The big ring can be used if you manage to find a good cadence.

Also for 'normal' riders!

Milan - Sanremo is certainly not just for the pros. Following good Italian practice, the day after the pros there is of course a gran fondo version of the eponymous pro race on the same course (or part of it). Because on Saturday you watch the race and on Sunday, the day of the famiglia, you imagine yourself to be a real class act and you let yourself be welcomed on the Via Roma as a true campionissimo. But, small correction, at Milan - Sanremo it's a bit different.

The day after the pro race, this year Sunday, March 20, the Granfondo Sanremo Sanremo is organized. So watch the pro race on Saturday, but ride a different route on Sunday. But this one is no less worthwhile. From Sanremo, the coastal road leads first to the French border and then to the backlands. After climbing more than 20 km through the foothills of the Maritime Alps, we reach the highest point of the route, at about 1.000m. After a long descent, the coast is reached. After a long descent the coastal road is reached again and the route continues to San Lorenzo al Mare for the ascent of the Cipressa.

From the foot of the climb you follow (partly) the route of MSR. After the descent, the coastal road is left once more for a detour via the villages of Terzorio and Pompeiana. The quality of the asphalt has kept the organization of the pro race from adding them to the finale as an extra penalty. After Pompeiana, it's another 15 kilometers to the finish. The icing on the cake: arrival at the famous phone booth on top of the Poggio di Sanremo. Unfortunately no Via Roma, but you ride it casually afterwards and make the obligatory selfie at the world famous fountain or the famous casino.

If you do want to ride the full route of MSR, mark June 5 in your calendar for the Granfondo Milano Sanremo. 300 kilometers, unfortunately no start at the Duomo in Milan and no finish on the Via Roma, but the original route with the Passo del Turchino and all the famous capi in full battle order.

Beautiful cycling destination

Sanremo is not only the beating heart of the Flower Riviera with its lovely beaches, good restaurants and great architecture (although sometimes a bit past its prime). Sanremo (and the surrounding municipalities) is increasingly presenting itself as a great cycling region. A few years ago, the disused coastal railroad line was converted into a bike path with clean asphalt and well-lit tunnels (galeria) and equipped with beautiful mementos of the cycling history of the city and region. The backlands of Sanremo lends itself to beautiful and especially car-free climbing and that the average Italian has reasonable respect for cyclists contributes to delicious kilometers. Add to this the pleasant subtropical climate and you have the right ingredients for a great bike ride.

Other gran fondo's

Want to combine your visit to Sanremo or the region with a nice gran fondo? During the year there are some nice events. Always with the Italian atmosphere, a start after Sunday mass (so somewhere around 10:00-10:30h), about 100 to 125 km and enough climbing (1,500 to 2,500m+).

Is your mouth watering at the mention of Poggio di Sanremo, Via Roma, Cipressa, Capo Berta, Passo del Turchino, Corso Imperatrice? And would you like to feel a little bit like the legendary Girardengo (6x winner of MSR): Ci vendiamo a Sanremo per la classicissima di primavera del ciclismo! (See you in San Remo for the spring classic of cycling).

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