Friday, March 15, 2013

A Short History of the Longest Day of the Year

Popular logic says that the longest day of the year falls on the summer solstice.  In 2013, that happens to fall in late June—the 21st, to be specific.  But the longest single day for a cyclist comes this weekend; the professional peloton will depart from Italy’s cultural center, Milan, heading south-west towards a city situated on the Mediterranean coast, just across the French border from Nice.  It doesn’t seem like an insane distance to travel in a day—especially by train or car.  This is no car race though.  The peloton will travel via bicycle—which should have been obvious to you—not as the crow flies, or even the most efficient paved route, but rather nearly 300kms at race pace to San Remo. 


Let me give you a second for that to sink in…

300kms is roughly 185 miles.  Now I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as a long day.  It is, in fact, the longest single day of the one-day race calendar, and the first of the great cycling monuments of the year.  To ride 185 miles in one shot is a feat in itself, but to race that distance is something to behold.  Milan-San Remo, or “la classica di Primavera,” as it is sometimes called, is an epic day in the saddle.  That epic day, luckily for you, is this Sunday.  It is a race that is sometimes overlooked for the colder, wetter, cobbled classics of Northern France and Belgium, but it deserves your attention and has a list of champions littered with the greatest cyclists of all time. 

Like any race of historical significance, Milan-San Remo was started by a newspaper. La Gazetta dello Sport, the same publication that created the Giro d’Italia, decided to run a one-day race from—you guessed it—Milan to San Remo.  At first, organizers didn’t even know if the route was feasible.  They asked a few prominent pros of the time to pre-ride the course and determined that it was rideable.  The first edition of the race went off in 1907. 

The earliest edition of the race was “only” 288km, but over the many years since its inception the course underwent slight changes and now covers 298km.  Though the race has always been long, several climbs have been added throughout its history to make the race more unpredictable and more difficult. 

The now-famous Poggio di San Remo climb was added in 1960 and sits in the final Kilometers of the race.  It is a climb that has made a race that was once a guaranteed bunch sprint into a race where a late attack is possible.  Though the race still usually ends with a whittled down group sprinting for the win, in a 300km race anything is possible—which make for some really exciting racing. 

Eddy Merckx in his 2nd of 7 victories

As is the case with many professional races, Eddy Merckx holds the record for most wins with 7, but the list of champions is not limited to great classics strong men.  Because the race can come down to a sprint, great riders like Mark Cavendish, Oscar Freire, Mario Cipollini, Erik Zabel, and Matthew Goss, who are all known for their finishing kick, exist alongside all-arounders and strong-men like Fabian Cancellara, Simon Gerrans, Paolo Bettini, Sean Kelly, and Laurent Fignon.  The absolute giants of the sport have targeted and won this monster of a classic.  Names like Moser, De Vlaeminck, Coppi, Cinelli, and Bartali give this race a historic significance to rival the biggest races in modern calendar. 


So what should we look out for in 2013? Well that is the great thing about racing: Anything can happen.  Peter Sagan and Vincenzo Nibali are both on great early season form, and could play their cards at different points in the race.  The former teammates won’t have to worry about stepping on each other’s toes now, and look for each team to put all their cards in one basket.  Nibali will be riding for a late move on the Poggio, while Sagan’s Cannondale teammates will ride for a bunch kick—keeping their fingers crossed that Sagan can follow attacks late in this marathon. 

One of the most memorable recent finishes as Haussler and Cavendish's finish comes down to a tire. 

We can’t leave out all the race’s former champions that will be returning as well.  The previous two champions—both Australian—are now teammates on Orica GreenEdge.  Simon Gerrans and Matthew Goss will have different roles depending on how the race plays out, but it’s safe to say that they will be marked men.  Fabian Cancellara won here in 2008 with a fantastic final Km attack that held off a charging field, but given his dominance in the last 5 years, its unlikely that anyone will let him get away without massive difficulty. 

MSR winds along the coast for the later part of the race which makes for amazing scenery. 

What do I think is going to happen?  I don’t know, and honestly I don’t care.  That is, I don’t care who wins.  I simply want to sit back and enjoy a beautiful race and a beautiful sport.  Whoever comes out on top though, you better believe I will revel in 2013’s longest day of the year.  


  1. We have got history in Italy. Cycling history. A race which has been living since 1907 is a great thing.

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