Ride in the wheel tracks of cycling legends in this amateur one-day epic.
What is it?
Known as La Classicissima (‘The Classic of Classics’), the Milan-Sanremo is one of pro cycling’s five Monuments – the longest, hardest and most prestigious one-day races in the sport. And at 296km – nearly 200 miles – this is the longest of them all, and has been a fixture in the pro calendar since 1907. As the name suggests, it covers a route from Milan in northern Italy, down to Sanremo on the Ligurian coast near the French border.
Being a flatter route than most of the Monuments, it is regarded as one for the sprinters – Mark Cavendish won the race in 2009, the second Brit to do so after Tom Simpson in 1964. For the pro race, early spring conditions often bring snow on some of the higher passes, but fortunately for amateur cyclists who want to sample this historic event for themselves, the granfondo takes place in the rather more favorable conditions of June, when heat is more likely to be a problem!
What’s the route?
It’s basically exactly the same as the route used by the pros. You may be familiar with the later part of the race from watching it on TV, but taking part yourself will give you a chance to experience those early stages before the coverage starts. Setting off from Milan, the route takes you across the pan-flat plain of the Po Valley towards the mountains on the horizon – and you can expect a very high pace for the first 100km, so aim to sit in the pack and take advantage of the peloton.
Despite the race’s reputation as one for sprinters, it’s not all flat and after Alessandrio, the road turns upwards towards the infamous Passo del Turchino, with its summit at 591m being high enough to provide a real test after 150km of fast-paced riding.
After the descent down the other side, the route hits the coast and continues through picturesque villages with views of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, all the way to Sanremo. There are a few more lumps and bumps along the way, including La Manie and the quick succession of short sharp climbs known as the Tre Capi (three peaks).
Next comes La Cipressa – not too tough in itself at 6km long and an average 4%, but often the scene of the first really meaningful attacks in the pro race, and with over 200km in the legs, you’ll feel the burn if you try to keep up with the faster riders.
Finally comes the infamous Poggio, so often the race-deciding moment for the pros, but by the time you reach it, you’ll be thankful just to get over its relatively gentle slopes but if you’ve watched the race on TV, you’ll no doubt feel a real frisson as you round every familiar bend, reliving the glory for yourself, before a sweeping descent to the finish line in the center of Sanremo, following in the historic tyre tracks of Sean Kelly, Eddy Merckx, Fabian Cancellara and many other legends of the sport.
It’s a seriously tough challenge, but that sense of being part of cycling history is what makes it a must-do for every true cycling fan.
How long will it take me?
The 2017 pro race was won by Michal Kwiatkowski in just over seven hours at an average speed of nearly 41kmh. Amateur riders can expect to take up to double that time, but note that the pasta party at the finish closes after 13 hours, so you’ll need to get a move on if you want to be fed – highly likely after such a tough ride!
Unlike the pro race, roads are not closed for amateurs, so you are subject to the normal laws such as stopping at red lights and giving way at junctions. You will also need to hold a racing license from a national federation or a sports medical certificate.
What’s included in the entry fee?
There are three food and drink stops on the route where you can top upon fuel, as well as the official pasta party at the finish. Mechanical support is available on the route, and a mobile number is provided so you can call for help rather than have to sit and wait for a passing moto.
There’s also a broom wagon in the unfortunate event that you can’t complete the ride. Since the start and finish are so far apart, the organizers offer free transfer of small bags, while suitcases and bike boxes can be transferred for a supplementary fee. There are also official event buses to return you to Milan.
How do I enter?
At the time of writing, the event is not yet open for registration – the good news is this means you’re still in with every chance of bagging a place on this year’s edition! Keep an eye on the official website for further details; entry fees in 2017 started at €60 (£53) for early birds.
Alternatively, you can book your place through a cycling tour operator – many of these offer complete packages including accommodation and baggage transfer.
For example, Sports Tours International offers a three-night package with two nights in Milan, one night in Sanremo, with airport transfers from Milan and to Nice, luggage transfer on race day – as well as guaranteed entry to the Granfondo, mechanical support and a UCI racing license for those who don’t already have one; prices start at £559 for two people.
They also offer hire of a Pinarello Gan as an optional extra, so you can avoid the hassle of having to transport your own bike.