Sunday, 29 March 2009

Primavera Travels - Milan - San Remo



What had spurred me to go on our trip to Italy had been the prospect of riding the San Remo cyclosportive the day after watching the pros in the Milan - San Remo event. So the Saturday and Sunday of our trip was pretty much focused on that.

The Milan - San Remo pro race does what it says on the tin. It goes from Milan to San Remo in 298km, taking in lots of short climbs especially towards the end of the race. The Miilan - San Remo cyclosportive (also known as the Milan San Remo Cicloamatoriale) starts and finishes in San Remo and lasts 120km taking in the well known climbs that feature in the pro race plus a big climb in the middle of our route. It may have looked like I was taking the lightweight option by only doing less than half the distance of the pros, but this event, for me was not a piece of cake to get through! (More on that later.)


Saturday

Ady dropped us off at San Remo and we made our way to the Lungomare Calvino where all the stands and gazebos were set up for the big bike event. We headed to the registration tent, where I had to confirm my details and pick up my goody bag prior to racing on the Sunday. I needed to produce my racing licence to show that I was "tesserata", otherwise show a medical certificate. Luckily I'd remembered my British Cycling Licence so that was all pretty straight forward. While there, I caught sight of Barbara Lancioni, the number one female cyclosportive rider in Italy, with her Renofin Sintesi team. Her team was basically a posse of about 8 guys from the same team. They would be responsible for pacing her around the course and ensuring that she won - as they have done for her on many other occasions. Barbara certainly came across as popular and many riders were only too happy to stop and chat to her.

We looked around the area contemplating all the scaffolds and advertising hoardings, as well as the TV cameras that had been set up to capture the all important finish line drama.


The site of the Livestrong banners, as well as the buzz all around the area underlined the excitement in anticipation of the arrival of "The Boss". Apparently Lance Armstrong's appearance in the Milan-San Remo had triggered off a record number of press accreditation pass applications for the occasion.

We headed over to Cipressa which was the nearest interesting part of the course to our base at Molini di Triora. As it's a pleasant hilltop village we also figured that we would have a better chance of seeing the peloton here than on the crowded Poggio di San Remo.

At Cipressa village alot of fans were already out on the road, but it wasn't crowded.

At around 3.30pm we watched a 15-minute procession of official vehicles and police passing through. The appearance of the low flying helicopter signified the arrival of the peloton. The crowd clapped and cheered as the various groups of riders passed.

I could have done the same, but I was too busy trying to snap half decent pictures. I therefore failed to identify anyone in the peloton at the moment they were passing. Nevertheless, this specatacle was by no means an anticlimax.

The Cipressa climb seemed to cause damage to the peloton as there were around 6 or 7 groups of riders that went past, and apart from the 2 front groups they weren't riding so fast. In fact, I was caught out when I put my camera away, thinking that all the riders had passed, but then a gruppetto of around 10 riders bringing up the rear, suddenly came through. Surprisingly, Mr Armstrong was in this group. He was finding things a little tough be this point, and it showed.

Once the group had passed, everyone then filed into the cafe in the village. It was pretty crowded with mainly men. Everyone was focused on the TV screen and everyone watched in complete silence as the riders attacked the Poggio. The sound of people taking sharp intakes of breath echoed around the room as the commentators became excited for Fillipo Pozzatto and Davide Rebellin as they tried to break away. When Mark Cavendish shot out from nowhere to take the victory the commentators were extremely animated - as much with surprise that an Italian hadn't won, as with admiration for the pace that the young British guy had turned.

I have never seen a room empty so quickly as when the largely Italian audience saw Mark Cavendish cross the finish line first. There was no interest shown whatsoever, and the remaining old Italian guys in the bar immediately resumed their game of cards/dominoes and descended into a state of nonchalance. It was just down to me, Fred, and a South African bloke to toast the victory!

Sunday


Ady gave me an early morning lift to San Remo again. This time I was on my own. The sun was bright and gave me a vigour to want to get going - even if it was 7.45 on a Sunday morning. The sight of loads of Italians at the start of a bike race is always pleasing to the eye - tanned legs, neatly combed hair, brightly coloured lycra enveloping well toned bodies. It doesn't matter which region you come from, how old you are, whether you are tall or small, fat or thin. As long as you're Italian you just look chic! That's my opinion anyway!

We got going to a shower of confetti, the sound of a loud klaxon set off by the Cannibal himself, Eddie Merckx, and lots of applause. We whizzed our way through the twisty streets of San Remo before hitting the main coast road out of town. It was windy and undulating, and I was glad to have the shelter from a peloton of around 50 riders. I didn't see any women in my group - just blokes - mainly Italians plus a few French guys. As ever, people like to talk. Whether it's just to say "ciao", or to ask where you are from.

A French guy kept using the "I've seen you somewhere before" line. I didn't mind speaking to him, but it got on my nerves a little when he spent about 3 miles running through every possible cyclosportive where he could have seen me previously -Were you at the Time Megeve? Les Bosses du treize? Les Beaumes de Venise? La Maratona? Le Daytona?? The One man and his dog??? Le Bla Bla Bla !! I politely replied "non" to all of his questions (which was true) but deep down I just wanted to say "fous moi la paix!" (bloody leave me in peace!). If he had enough energy to ask all these questions he should have been in a peloton a mile up the road from me. And anyway why did he just randomly start speaking to me in French when we were clearly in Italy and I was wearing a jersey that said London Cyclesport? That's what happens when you're just one of a handful of women in a cyclosportive abroad, I suppose.


I was really enjoying the landscape - the sea, the sun, the blue sky. The road was fast and we covered speed very quickly. I was amazed at how quickly we reached Taggia and Imperia, near where we were staying.

Shortly after Imperia the road began to climb significantly and I could feel myself slowing down. We went through a series of tunnels that were taking us upwards. At the other end we saw a sign indicating the start of the climb up to the Passo di Ginestro - 13km at an average of 4.5%. At the same time, many people slowed down to say ciao to a young guy at the side of the road. It was Ivan Basso climbing off his bike and getting into the Liquigas team car! Oh, well having ridden the big one the previous day he had every excuse to stop now! The climb was ok, but I couldn't keep with the pace of the main group and I ended up riding in a gruppetto of about 8 riders. The guys were nice and did what they could to keep us together. One guy who knew the course kept urging us not to go too fast as we would pay for it later on the Poggio di San Remo. The last couple of kilometres of the Passo Ginestro were tough as they steepened to 10%. We were rewarded with some beautiful views though. The descent was really fun and I was glad to have skilful wheels to follow to get back down to the coast.

We found ourselves back in Imperia and on the coast road again. The wind was tougher for us as we were a much smaller group. Also we no longer had vehicles to escort us as we were towards the back of the field. That meant having to ride through all the Sunday morning traffic. Thankfully, Italian drivers show more deference to cyclists than they do to other vehicles!

Cipressa seemed tougher to me than when I rode it the previous day. Probably because I was riding faster and had more miles and more climbing in my legs by the time I reached it. In addition, I had only just recovered from riding up Capo Cervo, and a toughie called Capo Berta. This climb is not well known or even infamous. But for me, it was hard work. Capo Berta was short - only around 3km, but it averaged about 8%. I hadn't anticipated that climb and it was hurting my legs. Cipressa was 5.6km at 4.1% (max 9%) and twisted it's way up to the village where I'd been the previous day. Now I understand why many pros rode up this climb quite slowly. I only had 100km in my legs compared with the 278 they'd have endured, but I was still crawling up the hill!

The descent was lovely - the views were truly wonderful. Even the Italians around me marvelled over the view of the coast and the clear blue sea. Back at Taggia I began to get tired, and struggled to keep with my group. So in Lance Armstrong style, I drifted off the back and took it easy. I would have to get up the Poggio somehow. It was 3.7km long with a 3.7% climb (max 8%).

Not a massively challenging climb, but I was getting the hunger knock and so any effort seemed too much for me at that point. I sauntered up the hill, willing myself to get to the summit before getting some food.

Once at the summit I definitely needed something, as I was sweaty and dizzy - not the best state to be in when you have the sharp hairpins of the technical descent to negotiate. The fruit cake definitely hit the spot and I was able to forge ahead and rejoin a group at the bottom of the descent. I'd been thinking I was in last place as I hadn't seen anyone at all on the Poggio climb. But then, on the run in to San Remo I was caught by a group of around 20 riders - some of whom I had last seen earlier on the Passo Ginestro climb. It was good to meet up with them again, and we crossed the line together. All in all, it had been a fairly sociable event, even if it had been challenging for us at times.

The race was won by ex-pro Sergio Barbero in a sprint finish. The winning woman, as ever was Barbera Lancioni, who apparently only finished 15 minutes behind the winning men - astonishing !!

The San Remo cicloamatoriale was organised by Gazetta dello Sport newspaper. It was well organised and I'd recommend it to any club cyclist who can comfortably ride 100km. They will be organising the Giro di Lombardia cyclosportive in the Autumn, and so I will try and get to that one.
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