The two famous climbs at the end of the Milan – San Remo are usually at the center of attention when experts predict the outcome of the race. However, looking at the last two editions of La Primavera, the very last descent has been even more decisive. A shift of focus seems in place.
Entering Cipressa, the penultimate climb of the race, the riders have been in the saddle for five or six hours. Having passed the 250 km mark, the peloton has put the hammer down for longer than the riders can remember. They are tired, probably malnourished, and most definitely thirsty for a chilled can of coke and perhaps even a portion of hot pasta with some good old Parmiggiano.
Moreover, the last three versions of the race have seen devilish weather as well. Heavy rain and snow have challenged the riders’ mentality even harder. In 2013, the snow even inspired the normally unyielding Italian organizers, RCS Sport, to throw the Quintana’s of the peloton a bone, and skip Passo del Turchino, which saw arctic conditions.
Even without blizzards and tornados, the race is more than tough enough. Almost 300 kilometers, usually completed with an average speed of more than 43 km/h. It is however flat, at least for the most part. It is called the sprinters monument for a reason, and the speed suckers have been dominating the last 15 years.
The Classicissima is nevertheless not flat like a pancake. It has got its climbs, and it does not help that they are spared to the final 50 kilometers. That is where the small bulky uphill sections starts throwing punches at the riders. After the Cavendish-killer Le Manie was dropped from the course, the Cipressa and Poggio stand out as the most difficult challenges. Cipressa being the tougher one, Poggio most often the decisive one.
Although the two climbs are the talk of the town in the build-up to the race, the last versions of the race have seen the descent from Poggio being even more decisive. The last two winners, John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff, both did an amazing job recovering on the last kilometers towards the Via Roma.
What makes the decent so special is not the decline percentage itself. There are plenty of steeper downhills in the World Tour. As a matter of fact, the turns are not particulary sharp either. On the contrary, it is the combination of not-that-steep and not-that-hard that makes the descent something of its own.
Not so steep a decent, means full throttle from the crazy Samu Sanchez-guy in front. Curves not that challenging, means aggressive pace both in and out of the turns, creating a mischievous feeling of control, repeatedly leading to riders rolling dangerously over the barriers towards the small Ligurian village houses. Last year, former world champions Phillippe Gilbert and Michal Kwiatkowski crashed out at the same corner, together with Zdenek Stybar and former La Primavera winner Gerald Ciolek.
To be in control of the descent, and even manage to outflank some of the stiff legged opponents, before the last horizontal stretch towards the finish line, has proven to be life saving for sprinters like Kristoff and Degenkolb, or even Mark Cavendish back in 2009.
As always, it is hard to predict the outcome of the race. One thing that is not hard however, is to recommend every classic-lover out there to pay a visit to San Remo and the Poggio, and see for yourselves how strangely challenging the last descent can be.
Although San Remo and its neighboring villages and cities are not the most breathtaking of its kind, the cycling terrain is astonishing. To attack the Poggio both up and down (as you have understood by now, the best part is down) is definitely something else. And, having finished the descent in one peace, who’s to stop you from sitting down at a promenade café along the Via Roma, enjoying that well-deserved can of coke and perhaps even a bowl of pasta (with cheese of your own liking).
The Milan – San Remo takes place on March 19 this spring.