The cycling seasons biggest one-day races are called monuments and there are five of them. The first one started off this weekend with Milano-Sanremo. For many cycling-afficionados it´s the starting point of the bike season and there is so much to say about this race, it’s big, bold, and truly glorious. In Milano at the start, the cyclists show off the latest in cycling as the Italian crème de la crème watches and wants to be seen together with the greatest in cycling.
Ahead lays an epic distance of almost 300km, going through some of the most beautiful places in Italy, the race is unique and is know as ”la primavera” because it marks the arrival of spring for cycling.
In Sanremo, the sun shone from a clear blue sky, and we had decided to watch the race from a restaurant near the finish area, just to be able to see the finish live. As is typical for Milano-Sanremo nothing eventful happens until the last part of the race when the riders enter the short and intense climbs cipressa and poggio, infamous for making the sprinters suffer. It’s at these climbs the race really sets itself out.
All of a sudden the ambience in the restaurant started to change, the noise increased, people started talking louder and turned their chairs towards the tv and followed the race.
I won’t go in to all the details leading up to it, but the race came alive when the attacks on the poggio started. Insane speeds up the climbs, split second decisions, legs and breathing on the limit. There was a split in the group. And just before the top of the climb the Alpecin-Deceuninck rider Mathieu van der Poellaunched his trademark nuclear attack to create a gap between him and the other favorites and started the fast descent from the poggio toward Sanremo and the finish line.
We ran from the restaurant to the finish line. To say that Via Roma was packed would be an understatement. People stood in lines beside the road, hanging out of windows and balconies. I even saw a people climbing lampposts and one guy channeling his inner climber and free soloing up the façade. The commentators in a frenzy, the helicopters circling the sky. It was chaos. I felt my pulse increase. Mathieu van der Poel was charging into the city and behind him it was a high-speed chase entering Sanremo cheered on by the extatic crowd.
They were closing in on our location at the finish line, but before we could see them, we could hear them. It was like a massive wall of sound traveling down the street. The old Via Roma was transformed into a colosseum, I’ve never experienced anything like it. We saw Mathieu van der Poel coming down Via Roma with his hands on his helmet, like he couldn’t believe what was happening. He was now a winner of one of the most prestigious races in cycling, like his grandfather 62 years before him, his dream came true, right before our eyes. A true cycling gladiator fulfilling his destiny.
I didn’t think the cheering could get louder, but then Filippo Ganna, the Italian hope, unleashed all his power in a sprint for second place, the Italian crowd reached a crescendo, it was deafening. Belissimo! Grande!
A beautiful finish to a beautiful race.
On to the next race, coming up is perhaps the biggest of the monuments, Tour of Flanders or as it’s called in Belgium, Ronde Van Vlaanderen.