February 2015

By Barry Boyce, CyclingRevealed Historian


Part 1

Part 2


History of Milan-San Remo: The Beginning

Over a century has passed since the creation of an international cycling classic, a now legendary event conceived at the counter of a small San Remo café. A vacationing Eugenio Costamagna, the director of Gazetta dello Sport (Italy’s leading sports newspaper) was approached at the café by local politicians eager to attract events to their city. Several failed promotions had the politicians looking for new ideas. Costamagna suggested a spring cycling event to challenge those already established in France and Belgium.

A spring cycling event would not be easy to organize and promote. The race from Milan to San Remo had two major obstacles: distance and topography. The two cities are 288 kilometers (about 180 miles) apart. In between lies the climb of the Passo di Turchino, where road conditions were often less than optimal in spring. To test the new course Eugenio Costamagna, as he had done at the beginning of the Giro di Lombardia in 1905, invited ten of the top professional riders to ride the route before the inaugural Milan-San Remo (M-SR) road race. When the riders returned with enthusiasm, the race was on.

On Sunday, April 14, 1907 thirty-three riders came to the start line on Pedesimo Piazzale in Milan. The rules were strict: no supplies or other accessories, no changing of bicycles, and no technical team support. Most of the top Italian riders entered but in order to make this event international in scope, Costamagna paid French stars Lucien Petit-Breton (riding for Italian bicycle maker Bianchi) and Gustave Garrigou to compete.

The race started in the early morning hours in rainy conditions. Italian favorite Giovanni Gerbi from the Bianchi team attempted the first major attack at the 90 km mark of the race. Gerbi powered through the rain and mud to ascend the Turchino alone. He was caught shortly after the climb by Frenchman Gustave Garrigou in Savona and then by Bianchi teammate Petit-Breton. The trio rode steadily down the Ligurian Coast onto the Via Roma finish in San Remo. Lucien Petit-Breton, with the help of teammate Giovanni Gerbi, soloed away in the closing kilometers and won the first ever Milan-San Remo road race. The Classic known as “La Primavera” was born!

Throughout the remainder of the 20th Century, Milan-San Remo has given the cycling world great stories of individual effort and gained the distinction as one of the "Five Monuments of Cycling".

The Development
Unlike the other Monuments, M-SR has not varied the race course significantly over the years. However, one change did occur after World War II. As the road surfaces improved, the race became a sprinter's festival. In an effort to combat bunch sprints the organizers added the “Poggio di San Remo” in 1960. The modest hill was only 3 kilometers long, but its placement a few kilometers from the finish made the finish very hard. The Poggio became a famous launching pad for last-minute attacks. In 1982 the addition of the Cipressa climb, 20 kilometers from the finish increased the difficultly of the closing kilometers.

In part 2, later this month, Cycling Revealed presents Milan-San Remo 1946: Coppi’s Grand Journey, a description of a legendary edition of the Classic.


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