Milan-San Remo: The Australian influence
In Australia the days are getting shorter. It’s cooler in the morning. The cast of shadows is more exaggerated. And soon the ACT, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania will be back in the same timezone as Queensland. Daylights saving will end shortly (in the states where it exists). Summer will soon be over. But first, one late-night of television viewing awaits. For the first time, SBS will broadcast Milan-San Remo live. This ‘Monument’ of cycling is the only one that takes place when Europe is 10 hours behind the eastern states of Australia. Soon there’ll only be eight hours difference. And there are sure to be some weary eyes come Monday morning.
One worth staying up for…
By the time Australians settle down to watch the peloton speed towards its anticipated rendezvous with the climbs of the Cipressa and Poggio, and the finish on the Lungomare Italo Calvino and listen to Matt Keenan and Scott McGrory – or, if they opt for Eurosport, the likely commentary combination of David Harmon and Sean Kelly – it will already be the early hours of Monday morning. SBS’s live broadcast begins at 12.35am and the start at Milan’s Castello Sforzesco will have happened hours earlier (10.10am, European time). Tradition dictates that there’ll be an escape group that could have gained an advantage of well over 15 minutes by the time they begin racing along the coastline. But rarely does anyone from the early selection reach the finish first.
It’s on the Poggio that the race is often decided. Even when it’s a sprint finish, it’s the hill less than 10km from the finish that thins out the bunch and tests the legs of all before the rapid descent into San Remo. When Oscar Freire has won, he’s been largely anonymous on the Poggio. He hid in the bunch, followed wheels, reached the top within a few seconds of the first over the top and then outwitted and outsprinted all others. He foiled Erik Zabel in 2004, when the German famously saluted a success that hadn’t yet been confirmed. And then Freire won again in 2007 and 2010. The Spaniard is no longer racing. He retired after the 2012 season. Since his last win in Milan-San Remo, there have been two other champions… both of them Australians. And both have relegated ‘Spartacus’ to second place.
Fabian Cancellara has won Milan-San Remo. He did so in a dominant way in 2008 when Scott Sunderland was calling the shots as DS of the CSC team. The rider from Inverell had once been the best-placed Australian in this race. He finished fifth back in 1992 when Sean Kelly beat Moreno Argentin and Johan Museeuw for the title. Since then the Australian influence has steadily increased. And there’s good reason why it’s now live on SBS: this is not just a great television spectacle, but there are Aussies who are on the honour roll.
As well as Matt Goss and Simon Gerrans as Milan-San Remo champions in 2011 and 2012, respectively, two others who will feature in the race this coming Sunday have been on the podium: Heinrich Haussler, another rider from Inverell, who was second to Mark Cavendish by a matter of centimetres in 2009; and Stuart O’Grady who was third on the day of Zabel’s error and Freire’s perfectly timed throw to the finish line.
Allan Davis has also finished second, also to Freire… but the Bundy boy hasn’t made the selection for the Orica-GreenEdge team in 2013. And, of course, Robbie McEwen has made an appearance in sprints in San Remo in the past but his best place was fourth (in 2007).
The Backstage Pass by Dan Jones last March is a clip that explains what kind of emotions a victory in Milan-San Remo can conjure. With over 83,000 views, it’s eight minutes on YouTube that has caught the attention of many around the world. It shows the elation of the DS and team staff and captures an inside look at one of the Australian team’s biggest triumphs. And it sends chills through you… especially the screaming on the team bus after Gerrans comes from behind The Cancellara Express to cross the line in first place.
On the Monday after Milan-San Remo (which has moved from its traditional Saturday slot to Sunday for the 2013 edition) in recent years, RIDE Cycling Review has spoken with the winners. Matt Goss and Simon Gerrans explained their triumphs and added to the long catalogue of features on this wonderful Classics, ‘La Primavera’. Spring seems like it might be late in Europe this year but the race that gets its nickname from the season is only a few days away. And anticipation is high in Australia… even if the favourite is a Slovakian.
Peter Sagan has done enough in recent years to prove that he’s ready for success in a Classic. The first Monument of 2013 is almost upon us and the cover star of RIDE #59 has done enough to make him The Marked Man this coming Sunday. But other favourites have faltered in the past. This is cycling, nothing is certain until the riders reach the finish line. There may be traditional launch pads for attacks – ie. mainly the Poggio, but occasionally the Cipressa – and this is one of the Classics for sprinters… but that doesn’t mean the race will be predictable and boring.
While you wait for the bunch to reach the two salite en-route to San Remo, have a look over some of the links to coverage from the past. And prepare yourself for some cheering. No matter who wins, this is a 298km ride that inevitably gets fans to cheer… even if the win does come very early in the morning.
– By Rob Arnold
• Interview with 2012 winner, Simon Gerrans
• Backstage Pass (2012)
• Interview with 2011 winner, Matt Goss
• Interview with Scott Sunderland (2009)
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