The Italian Job
So a couple of weeks on and the experience is still so breathtaking and surreal. There is something smile-provoking about it all.
‘La Classicissima di primavera‘ or 'The Spring Classic' is the first of the five ‘monuments’ In professional cycling. These five races are considered the most prestigious one-day professional races. At a distance of 300km, Milan-San Remo, is the longest one-day race in professional cycling (291km of the official race distance with a further 9km being made up of the neutral road from the centre of Milan to the official start on its outskirts). I grew up watching this race and dreamed of one day contesting its mystical 300km.
This is a special race to any team and cyclist, but to us it’s extra special. We aim to leave our mark on the race in the breakaway. This year, we brought everything. With the plan to get a rider in the breakaway, and even the dream of putting two there, nothing could have prepared us for what unfolded; four. The amazing feat to have four guys in the Milan San Remo breakaway was unprecedented.
For this 'accidental' game plan to succeed it required a whole team effort; something that all seven of us were invested in completely. With a some luck, and a lot of hard work, the move paid off! Andrea, Charles, Joonas and Umberto showed the 'Changing Diabetes' jersey at the front of the race whilst David, Peter and myself settled in to the ensuing peloton. I use the word accidental because it was beyond our wildest dreams but to say it was fluke is unfair to such a fantastic team effort.
What Does It Take?
On paper the race isn’t the most challenging. A relatively flat parcours gives the race the label of ‘The Sprinters Classic’. It’s difficulty revolves around a succession of climbs in the final 50km, with over 250km in the legs it is often defined by a small group attacking over the final ascent; The Poggio.
I'm often asked what happens over the space of 300km. Usually the questions resemble boredom, but for me this race doesn't feel as long as the race time might suggest. The 'Turchino Pass' is the days first climb and at 140km, it pretty much signals the monuments half way mark. This, to me, is where the time flips from counting upwards to counting downwards. The descent of the pass brings the group out onto the sea front for the long wind in towards San Remo.
Knowing the stature of the race, its history and its classification as a monument; a race any cyclist would dream of competing in brings such a air of excitement to me. Managing this excitement on the bike is crucial. This feeling can often help in the toughest of moments. In hindsight, the race doesn't feel like over seven hours on the bike; it feels less - a lot less.
The 2019 Race
After the breakaway had been established it was time to recover from some sharp explosive efforts and switch the mindset towards saving energy. After all, it would be another 6:45 on the bike. A long time to waste energy. Recovering was imperative. With only two other teammates in the peloton it made it easier to organise ourselves. There isn't much to discuss about the first 200km of the race. In huge contrast to 2018, the sun was shining brightly. Having raced 12 months earlier in pouring rain, the sun came as an extra bonus. Over such a long distance, the group seemed so much more relaxed. It is less of a chase to catch the breakaway and more of a WHEN the breakaway depletes. It's a very long way for a small group to survive to the end. The Turchino Pass arrived and the first feed zone was upon us. Something that induced a little bit of nerves and panic within the group but nothing too much on this occasion. On to the coast and the steady tempo started to increase. Slowly building towards the races crescendo.
Every now and then there would be murmurs on the radio. Time gaps, calls for action or general race direction from the team cars but the Tre Capi (the first three of five climbs in the last 50km), Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta were approaching. The pace in the group was high, so high in fact that it was relatively impossible to feed at the second feed zone. After one last effort delivering bottles from the car to David and Peter, it was survival time. Two climbs to go; the Cipressa, followed by the infamous Poggio. After the attacks on the Cipressa it was time to find a group. There's not much to write about from here as the group was in pieces. Some would get back in and some wouldn't. I found my group and rode steadily to the finish knowing we'd executed one big breakaway, something we will talk about for a very long time.
Cycling, although to an outsider might not seem so, is a team sport. In Milan San Remo, it required more than the 7 riders but the numerous staff that not only were present in Milan and San Remo and every town in between but the whole organisation and squad. This work comes not only from the day, and the act of racing, but the months before and in the build up to the race. We had all the support we could have dreamed off and for the opportunity to race my second monument, I will be forever grateful.
Beyond that, entering the final few hundred metres and approaching the finish line in San Remo, I could hear my parents there supporting. They're always the loudest, or am I just tuned into them? Well either way, to me they were. It was phenomenal to have them there in person. To share such a special occasion with them was the icing on the cake. Thank you to them, to the team, to all of our supporters and to you.
Again, Thank you all for reading my latest piece. It's just a small taste of one of the races I grew up watching and have dreamt of racing. A dream adventure. I hope that no matter how brief, you still found it entertaining, useful, and insightful and hope to see you back here soon. I plan on going through some Dexcom data from this race so stay tuned.
If you feel it would be of benefit to others, then please feel free to share. Don't forget to follow, and I'd love to hear from you.
Thank you once again,
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Cover Photo - ©VeloImages / Team Novo Nordisk