By Barry Boyce, CyclingRevealed Historian
of Milan-San Remo:
Coppi's Grand Journey
Remo (M-SR) is the first Classic of the year and generally
attracts a huge amount of interest from the media, which during
the winter months starve for newsworthy stories. Our legendary ‘Cycling
Tale’ begins in March of 1946 with “Coppi’s
M-SR is a
link to the legendary, bygone days when races were long and
tedious compared to the shorter
but harder paced classics
of today. At 294km (about 185 miles), it required great early
season training. Its traditional route leaves the city of
Milan from the main square outside the cathedral, heads out
the plains of Lombardy towards the climb of the Turchino
Pass (the biggest climb in the race), then drops down to the
coast at Genova and follows the coast all the way to the
finish on the Via Roma in San Remo.
Remo was first run in 1907 and except for 1916 ran consecutively
until 1944 & 1945 when WWII canceled
the event. Italy was staggering after World War II; cities
jobs were scarce, the roads were not paved, and TV coverage
did not exist. The radio broadcast gave the only link to
action and the beleaguered people of Italy were glued to
the audio action of the race.
1946, the race called La Primavera would provide
the stage for the re-emergence of a great champion. Fausto
one of the most famous riders of all times, had prepared
very seriously with over 7,000 km of training from January
race day. From the start the sprinters attacked, trying
to gain an
advantage for the many early monetary prizes (primes) offered
by the small towns across the plains of Lombardy. Coppi
found himself drawn into an early counter-attack after only
An Italian radio commentator proclaimed Coppi's move "sheer
madness." All of Italy knew their hero, Gino Bartali,
would catch and pass Coppi on the Turchino Pass. Coppi seemed
he caught the small group of sprinters at the base of Turchino
and proceeded to systematically shed his breakaway companions
one by one. Finally, only original attacker Frenchman Lucien
Teisseire could stay with the flying Italian. Halfway to
the summit, Coppi's smooth pedaling opened a gap on Teisseire
would not be closed.
At the summit,
Coppi entered a short, dark tunnel. Claude Tillet, L'Equipe's
main reporter for
the race, eloquently
set forth one
cycling's great legends when he wrote:
was of modest dimensions, just 50 meters long, but on 19 March
1946 it assumed
exceptional proportions in the eyes of the world. That
day it was six years in length and lost in the gloom
of the war... A rumbling was heard from the depths of those
six years and suddenly there appeared
in the light of day an olive-greenish car stirring up a cloud
“Arriva Coppi” the messenger announced, a revelation
only the initiated had foreseen.
were still 145 km (approx. 90 miles) from the top of Turchino
to the Via Roma. Coppi never looked back,
riding alone to finish
some 14 minutes ahead of Teisseire and several more
minutes ahead of the field. The stylish victory provided a
for the war torn country. From a British prisoner of
war camp to top of the cycling world, his status as
1946 M-SR also marked the start of a great cycling rivalry
between Coppi and Bartali. War kept the two
apart and M-SR brought them back together. This edition
left no doubt
that Fausto Coppi was the best in 1946, but the race
started a rivalry that would push both men to excel
Italians over the next decade.
Highlights of M-SR
- 2nd M-SR 1908: Cyrille Van Hauwaert, called 'The Lion of
himself under snowy conditions and cold temperatures
to win by more than three minutes.
- 4th M-SR
1910: Only four competitors out of the 71 starters
at the beginning of the race finished in San Remo.
after his victorious arrival under apocalyptic conditions
is taken by ambulance to the hospital. He remained
there for one
month before finding the complete use of his arms and
legs. Christophe will spend almost two years to completely
this day of
- 11th M-SR
1918: The first ‘Primavera’ victory
for Italy’s first Campionissimo Costante Girardengo,
he will gain five more M-SR victories.
- 19th M-SR
1926: 1925 Italian Champion Costante Girardengo went over the
Pass first and soloed into
San Remo for his
6th and last M-SR victory.
- 30th M-SR
1937: For the first time Milan-San Remo is run on March 19,
the day of
race day of
La Primavera. Cesare Del Cancia, riding for
the Ganna team, broke away with 70 km remaining and
a new record
average speed at 37.408 km/h.
- 1944 No Race
1945 No Race WW2
- 45th M-SR
1954: Belgian superstar Rik Van Steenbergen out-sprinted a
stellar field, which included
Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali,
Louison Bobet, Loretto Petrucci and Germaine
Derijcke, for the victory.
It was one of the best sprint finishes
in M-SR history. 1954 was the first televised M-SR.
- 51st M-SR 1960: To avoid the repetition as
mass sprint race, the organizers added
the climb of
di San Remo,
to the route 3.7 km from the finish.
M-SR 1966: A young a 20 year old Belgian named Eddy
Merckx, racing for
blew the race
apart and dusted
partners in the sprint for his first
of 7 M-SR victories.
- 68th M-SR
1977: Dutch newcomer upstages Merckx and Moser. Holland’s
Jan Raas executed a brilliant attack
in the final kilometers and out-sprinted the two champions
for the victory.
- 83rd M-SR
1992: Kelly’s last hurrah!
Irishman Sean Kelly caught solo leader Moreno Argentin
on the descent of the Poggio,
taking great risks on the twists
of the run in to the Via Roma in San Remo, Kelly out sprinted
Argentin for his last major
victory of his career.
- 92nd M-SR
2001: Zabel Time 4. Defending World Cup champion Erik Zabel
his fourth M-SR
- 95th M-SR
2004: Zabel!… oops!
Spanish sprinter Oscar Freire’s
last second burst nipped a
surprised Erik Zabel on the
robbing the 4-time winner of
his fifth M-SR victory.
Eddy Merckx (Bel) 7 wins
Costante Girardengo (Ita)
Gino Bartali (Ita) 4 wins
Erik Zabel (Ger) 4 wins.