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Milan-San Remo 2022: Route, start list and all you need to know

Will Strickson
10 Mar 2022

A hub of television coverage, previews and all you need to about the 2022 Milan-San Remo

Milan-San Remo sportive

A car park on the periphery of Milan isn’t the most impressive location for the departure of a bike race, but no one is too bothered by the surroundings. It’s Milan-San Remo, La Primavera, the Monument that trumpets the arrival of spring each year. 

Even today, on a precision-engineered, lightweight, aerodynamically profiled bike, riding from the Lombardian capital to the Ligurian coast is no easy task, but a century ago it must have been torture.

A lot has changed since the first race was organised back in 1907, but it’s still intriguing to think that today we’re doing it for fun. Ordinarily this gran fondo is organised later in the season, avoiding the unpredictable weather that so often afflicts the professional event. Not today.

Milan San Remo sportive

Luckily the pack of cyclists provides a natural barrier to the weather. The fastest riders sit on the front and drive our peloton at impressive speed towards the mountains on the horizon, along the wide, fast roads that cover the pan-flat plain of the Po Valley. The first 100km passes in what seems like an instant.

Milan-San Remo is regarded as a sprinter’s race, but the route’s profile is nowhere near as featureless as some would have you believe. Once we pass Alessandria, there’s a tangible change in topography and the road begins to work its way upwards towards the infamous Passo del Turchino.

At only 591m at its tip, Turchino isn’t anywhere near Italy’s great mountain passes in terms of altitude or difficulty, but after 150km of riding, and with the same still to go, I feel its bite.

Only twice (in 2001 and 2002) has it been left off the route for the pro race, so it will be a familiar climb to racing fans. The temperature drops and the deluge increases as we climb, and some huddle for shelter at bus stops or in tunnels, hoping for respite. On this side of the pass it’s unlikely to come, so the smarter riders – those better dressed for the conditions – push on.

Getting lumpy

Milan San Remo sportive

Rolling along the Italian Riviera, the La Manie climb comes quickly before the Tre Capi (three peaks) of Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta – and the coastal city of Imperia. Warm, dry and almost utterly exhausted we reach the Cipressa, one of the key climbs in the pro race.

At just shy of 6km with an average gradient of 4% and maximum of around 7%, the climb is not a significant challenge to those of us able to tackle it at a gentle pace, but for the pros this is where the weak are separated from the strong and many a rider’s race is decided.

The descent is a quick one and there’s little time to admire the views, even though we are now surrounded by glistening sea and verdant hills dotted by picturesque villages and the vast, luminescent glass houses that are so important to much of the local economy.

What comes next needs little introduction. Poggio is a small town with a big reputation. The eponymous climb is often the denouement of Milan-San Remo, but by the time most amateurs reach its base there’s little spark left for fireworks.

Taken out of context, the gentle slopes are nothing to write home about, but as the final bump on the parcours of one of our sport’s truly great races it can mean everything.

And climbing it with more than 280km in your legs, rounding each familiar corner, forcing your way up every sudden ramp, with all the memories and history that the location evokes, is an experience that every fan of professional road racing should savour at least once in their lives.

Milan San Remo sportive

When the pros are in town, the roadside is lined with screaming fans, camper vans and barbecues. There’s less enthusiasm for the strung-out amateurs, but some friends and family have turned out to cheer their own on and as we climb there’s even a van ahead of us on the road, filled with smiling supporters being led in chants by a particularly eager – almost certainly inebriated – chap with a loud speaker hanging out the window and shouting in Italian.

‘Come on! You’re nearly there! The others can’t match you – this will be your greatest achievement! You’re a hero!’ One of the Italian riders in our little group shakes his head before looking around with an apologetic smile.

Added to the route in 1960 to provide more excitement, the Poggio has been a star feature of Milan-San Remo ever since. Compared to the punishing mountain passes that epitomise the Giro d’Italia, the Via Duca d’Aosta isn’t exactly daunting.

Averaging around a 4% gradient compared to, say, Monte Zoncolan, which is more like 12%, the Poggio is neither as steep as many of Italy’s roads nor as rough and remote. The nature of its challenge lies primarily in the not-insignificant fact that it comes after almost 300km of racing. It is for this that the Poggio is both famous and feared.

A ramp off the main road into the town signals the beginning of the end, and leads us up and over the race’s final obstacle. The pros hit the ascent at full speed, and it usually looks as if they don’t slow down until finish line.

Probably because they don’t. We ascend at a gentler pace to a soundtrack of groans and heavy breathing. It’s been a long day, but we’re almost there.

The final push

Milan San Remo sportive

The gentle, narrow climb up the Poggio is the perfect end to a granfondo – hard enough to test my limits after so many kilometres, but easy enough compared to what’s gone before that I can feel my confidence rising. We’re now close enough to the end to ensure that even the most overcooked rider can hang on for the finish line.

Tackling it at pace requires rhythm and good racing lines, and seeing up close the speed with which the pro peloton climbs it every March beggars belief, but we can – must – take it easier, savour the final stretch, reflect on an enormous day in the saddle, recall favourite moments of races past, indulge in a daydream.

There’s an undeniable sense of accomplishment cresting the Poggio, turning past the Monte Calvo cafe and into the tight corkscrew bend that marks the beginning of the end, launching me into the lightening-quick downhill dash towards the centre of San Remo, with its Belle Époque villas, whitewashed casino and palm-tree lined thoroughfares.

It’s not a ride I’d want to do every day, but it is something that every rider should do at some point in their life. 

Colin O’Brien is a freelance journalist who is now thankful to have the Milan-San Remo ticked off his bucket list.

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