Milan San Remo
La Classicisima di Primavera, as Milan San Remo is known, is regarded as the most beautiful of the monuments, especially by the Italians.
It's the, first and the longest of the spring classics and has recently been regarded as the domain of the sprinters.
The finale is always tense as the Cipressa and Poggio climbs are hard but not too hard. The climbers often fail to drop the fast finishers and a mad gallop to the line often ensues.
After standing at the 10 metre to go sign on Saturday, to see Pozatto realise his long awaited potential, we were both fired up ready for our Sunday ride.
With the weather a comparatively balmy, but windy, 13 degrees we gathered on the Via Roma car park for the start. With numbers of 314 and 315 we headed to the 300-399 pen for our gated start.
There was a lot of gesturing and kerfuffle as the gate marshal proceeded to order Dianne to the front gate. Where she was placed next to Basso and Simoni for a photo shoot! Do you think we can find the photos with Dianne in them?
No. But you can see me at the front of the field, leaving the start, on page 90 of this month's Cycle Sport.
I was thrown in with the masses, as you'll see in the mag. When the gun fired it was typical Italian organisation; the gates were breached and it was every rider for themselves.
Being the first ever running of the event there was no experience for anyone to draw on. So, we all blasted from the start at race pace, only to get 500 metres down the Via Roma to the transponder mats.
Everyone then slammed on their brakes to pass over them through narrowed gates. As people shot out the other side groups quickly formed to head of the 30k's to Imperia and the first climb.
I caught Dianne at the flamme rouge, which was nice, checked she was okay, got her out of the middle of the road to the less hectic side, then dived back on to the tail of "my" group.
Riding over the capi, the rolling coastal hills that crop up every few kilometres, the group grew and shrunk as stronger riders came across and those who'd over committed themselves fell back.
At one point the road narrowed as those coming back met those going forward. There was an inevitable touch of wheels and two went down. The brakes went on and a massive gap opened.
I found myself at the front of a small group of around ten that began a chase to a larger group of maybe a 100 up the road. With a massive headwind the group ahead began to form echelons. Our group was working together but the gap wasn't coming down. Then I found no one was coming through and I'd been on the front longer than I would have liked.
How lucky am I?
The gap was still 20 metres then, from nowhere, two yellow clad riders came to the front and I grabbed the wheel. Within an instant I and the rest were being dragged up to the group ahead at an amazing pace.
My SRM was showing 340 watts. As we latched on I looked across to acknowledge the help given; it was Simoni and one of his team mates. He said something in Italian but I was too busy looking at his pulse meter. It read 84 bpm. I looked at mine, 175!
In a flash he was gone, drifting back through the riders to shouts, cheers and general Italian mayhem.
We reached Imperia in 49 minutes at an average speed of 42 kph and an average power output of 194 watts. This is really low for the speed and is due to the drafting taking place in the early kilometres.
Then we hit the back of Capo Verde and another attack went. This time I went with it and we left the group we just joined. You can see the split happening below, that's me dead centre with the red feet!
Me ~ dead centre, going with the "break"
We were still motoring as, a long lineout, we dived in and out of the roundabouts strewn through the town. Then a sharp right took us on the 10k run in to Pontedessio and the beginning of the 10k climb to the Passo di Ginestro. During all this time we were on a fully closed road!
As I'd caught bird flu and hadn't ridden my bike the two weeks before we left, I decided to save some energy on the run to the climb. I sat behind the biggest bloke there.
He was about six foot six and as wide as a house but was the worst bike rider I'd ever ridden with. Looking round, not holding a line, in and out of the saddle. Then I sussed it. No socks. He was a triathlete! Still he was a good wind break.
The Italians have a strange philosophy when it comes to riding fondo's. A 30 mph run in to the climb is typical. But once they get to the foot of the climb it's drop it on the little ring, get down the gears, and ride up as slow as possible.
All of a sudden I'm on the front, with a gap and climbing well in the big ring. I decide to press on and literally pass fifty or sixty riders on the 10k climb to the 677 metre summit. It's not high but we were climbing from sea level remember.
The descent was a blast and took us back to the sharp turn of earlier. Then on to the undulating "inner road" taking in the Cappi Cervo and Berta, to name just two, before hitting the outskirts of Imperia.
The route back took us through the middle of Onelia, which, on the race, is the old town where they blast through the narrow streets with the high sided buildings and roundabouts with fountains. This year Mori crashed at one of these, coming down hard. At this point the roads were open but the Police were on each roundabout and junction, stopping traffic to get us all through. Sort of. It is Italy after all.
Now we race
I'd decided I was going to the front, as it was the safest place. I'd keep the pace high but not kill myself and share the effort with three or four willing workers. Everyone else seemed pretty content with this, then I saw why; the 1k to Cipressa sign.
What until now had been a fast-paced chain gang, suddenly became a race. At the base of the six-kilometre, 242 metre, Cipressa the Italians I was riding with suddenly came alive.
The first k is at 5.6%. Half the twenty-strong group went on to the small ring, at least three of which derailled, the others attacked in the big ring. I maintained my pace on the big ring and found myself in no-mans land.
I rode like I did all winter, spinning in the saddle at my pace just below threshold. After the first k the climb "flattens" to 4.4%, I was now dragging back those in front.
Then at 2.5 to 3.5k it's 5.7% again and they all came back to me. I passed them and pushed on to the top knowing I could descend and never see them again. Job done.
The descent saw me pick up another group of around 40 riders and over the next 10 k I slowly moved to the front. When we hit the Capo Verde we shed a few, then we hit the Poggio.
This was the one I'd been waiting for. Not for the climb, for the descent. The climb isn't hard but it was incredibly windy which did make the legs sting. At 162 metres it was over in a flash and I crossed the summit in a group of six.
Dive, Dive, Dive...
I didn't want anyone around me for the descent. I downed a gel, drank a coke (handed up before the summit) and gave it everything from the summit to the first left hand corner; which was heavily marshalled, policed and with an ambulance. The reason for that is because it's steeper and tighter than it looks on the telly.
Anyway, once more my Colnago got me round. They truly are the best handling bikes you can ride. I dropped like a stone with every corner an adventure to remember.
If you've seen it from the helicopter shots you'll know how technical the Poggio descent is. Well I can now say the helicopter, as with all telly shots, doesn't do it justice.
It's far more technical, which means scary, than it looks. On my run in to the base I took around twenty riders, three cars and a truck. Thanks to the truck I now had a largish gap between myself and what would undoubtedly be my chasers. At the bottom junction, the Police waved me through to the main road. I now had two, eyes-front, kilometres to the finish.
Don't look back
My biggest whinge in cycling is when people look back.
The race is in front of you not behind. Looking back gives you nothing. If you give it everything and get caught, what more could you have done. If you look back and see them coming will you go faster or lose heart?
So, I went and I didn't look back. I caught five riders on the way to the flamme rouge but opened a gap on the tricky roundabout and chicane that takes you to the Via Roma.
I clicked up the gears and pushed as though my life depended on it, it didn't but I think I got carried away with the emotion of it all.
Ask Dave Whitt and Bob Cabot, it doesn't matter how tired you are, there is always something for the finish.
I came in alone (above) sprinting obviously, got the photo taken (that's why I was sprinting!), and crossed the line, after 120.3k, in 4:09:27 with a normalisied power of 199 watts. My average heart rate was 170bpm and my maximum power was 695 watts when the split happened on the Capo Verde.
After the euphoria of rubbing shoulders with Simoni and Basso, Dianne's ride was one of riding to Imperia and coming back over the Cipressa and Poggio. Once more she picked up a few domestiques, mainly Italian vets.
Climbing the Cipressa she was warned, as only the Italians can, with waving arms and loud voices about the dangers of the descent. Once they'd caught her at the bottom she was suitably chastised, with even more arm waving and raised voices, for going too fast. Mamma Mia!
Climbing the Poggio was an experience as she fought gravity and a massive rising headwind to stay upright. But she did and survived the descent unscathed to come over the line an hour before the official first finisher. Which threw the Italians into an organizational frenzy as she set the transponder alarms off when she crossed the line.
So, the first one of the year completed. As Wallace would say, "a grand day out". Loads of memories, another two great climbs added to my list and my photo in Cycle Sport. Now it's back home, regroup, feed the dog and get ready for Flanders.
Descending Masterclass ~ Sean Kelly