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March 5, 2024
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“I’m Loving It” – Milan–San Remo; The Complete Guide to MSR 2023

The Milan–San Remo is the first big race in the 2023 cycling season. If you are interested in cycling, you might want to learn more about some of the biggest races. In my guide, I will give you an insight into one of the most important cycling races in the world.

History of the Race

The Milan–San Remo race, also known as La Classicissima, is the longest one-day cycling race. It is one of the five monumental events in the cycling world. Along with the Tour of Flanders, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Paris-Roubaix, and Giro di Lombardia, it is one of the most prestigious cycling events.

Its name, the Spring Classic, comes from its time frame, as the race takes place in late March. Many cyclists consider participating (and of course winning) in the race to be the biggest honour they can achieve.

The race is also one of the longest one-day races today. It was first held in 1906, and lasted two days. However, the first official Milan–San Remo took place one year later, in 1907. Lucien Petit-Breton was the first winner of the race. Sixty cyclists registered, but only 33 started the race, and only 14 finished the race.

A notable event in its history was the 1910 edition of the race when a snowstorm ravaged the race. The snowstorm forced riders to take cover. In the end, only four participants finished the race.

Eugene Christophe won the race after 12 hours and 24 minutes, which is the slowest winning time of the race. Moreover, Eugene took the wrong path at the time. Upon his arrival in San Remo, he had no idea that he had won the race.

Modern History

While the race has quite a few notable events in its long history, we also saw some interesting events recently. For example, in 2004, we saw Erik Zabel lose the race while celebrating. Erik thought he had already won, but Oscar Freire took his chance and overtook him in the finish.

In 2013 due to terrible weather conditions, the organisers had to reroute the race and skip two crucial climbs. With this decision, they shortened the race by 50km. However, the weather conditions were nowhere near the ones in 1910.

Another relevant thing in its modern history is the 2020 edition when the race was pushed to summer. The race had a completely new route due to the refusal of several towns to let the cyclists pass through. Ultimately, it was 306km long and had detours through the Langhe hills.

MSR Cycling

Previous Winners

Throughout the long history of the race, there have been numerous winners from different countries. Italy has the largest number of winners so far, with 51 wins. Belgium is second with 22, and France is third with 14 wins.

Eddy Merckx has the most wins so far, with seven titles. He won a record seven championships between 1966 and 1976. Costante Girardengo is second in the number of wins, with six titles in the period between 1918 and 1928.

The Milan–San Remo 2023 winner was Mathieu van der Poel from the Netherlands. This was the fourth time the race went into the hands of cyclists from the Netherlands. The Dutchmen won the 114th edition of the Classicissima after his grandfather took the throne in 1961.

The most recent winners of the Milan–San Remo and the country they represented are in the table below.

WinnerCountryYear
Matej MohoricSlovenia2022
Jasper StuyvenBelgium2021
Wout Van AertBelgium2020
Julian AlaphilippeFrance2019
Vincenzo NibaliItaly2018
Michał KwiatkowskiPoland2017
Arnaud DemareFrance2016
John DegenkolbGermany2015
Alexander KristoffNorway2014
Gerald CiolekGermany2013

About the Race

Aside from being considered the classic in the world of professional competitive cycling, there are some interesting factors. The single-day race of nearly 300km is primarily a test of endurance rather than speed. Thus, it is not the fastest, but, most commonly, the most prepared riders that win.

While it is primarily flat, many cyclists have been fooled by the final stages or climbs. Because of its mainly flat course, many fans consider the first 250km somewhat dull. With the flat course, most cyclists ride in a peloton, and with this, there is not a lot of ‘racing’.

In case you are unfamiliar with the terminology, let me elaborate on what a peloton is. Simply put, it’s a group of riders who stick together in a race. The purpose of the peloton is to reduce drag and save energy. By driving one behind another, the riders utilise the reduced draft and conserve energy for the more demanding sections and final stages.

However, after what many consider the boring part, we come to the climax of the race. The last 60km is what many consider the heart of the Milan–San Remo race. The pelotons break, and the actual racing begins.

The final stages are the actual test of endurance. After 250km, all riders must push to their limits in order to take the ultimate prize. A series of climbs and descents make the race even more challenging for even the fittest riders.

Primavera Rosa

The Primavera Rosa was the name of the version of the Milan–San Remo race for women. It was held from 1999 to 2005 on the same day as the men’s race. However, it had a much shorter route and started in Varazze, not in Milan, thus its name. The organisers planned a 2006 edition, but it was cancelled beforehand.

Granfondo Milano Sanremo

Similarly, a version of the Milan–San Remo race organised for recreational cyclists is the Granfondo Milano-Sanremo. The course of the race is identical to the professional route. Its 2021 race was the 50th edition of the race.

2023 Women’s Milan–San Remo Race

A women’s version of the Milan–San Remo was planned for upcoming years. However, compared to the men’s edition, it will most likely be much shorter. The reason behind this is that women’s cycling races are limited to a maximum of 170km.

The organisers plan to have the race on the same day as the men’s competition. There are estimates that the first of its modern kind will be held in 2024.

Route of the Race

Upon its creation, the Milan–San Remo race was to start in Milan and be a straight run to San Remo. The race usually starts at Piazza del Duomo and heads southwest immediately. This is what its current course looks like.

The first section includes riding over Lombardy and Piedmont plains. The cities where drivers pass through are Pavia, Voghera, Novi Ligure, Ovada, and Tortona. After 140km, we come to the first climb.

Upon descending the Turchino, the riders reach the Ligurian Sea. This marks half of the race. The riders then follow the Aurelia Highway west. Some of the towns in this section are Arenzano, Varazze, Pietra Ligure, Santo Spirito, and Albenga.

Before reaching Imperia, there are three small hills, the Capo Mele, Capo Berta, and Capo Cervo. Finally, after this, the riders reach Cipressa. This section has an average gradient of 4.1%, reaching 9% at some points. This part is the first more challenging climb, where many riders realise the difficulty of the race.

Lastly, in the final 9km of the race, we have the most challenging element of the race, Poggio. The hills and the climb are not as challenging as the Cipressa. However, after Cipressa and the 280km of riding, many riders are at their limits.

Nonetheless, we saw quite a few phenomenal attacks in this section, including the win from Matej Mohorič in 2022. The climb and the final descent provide fans and spectators with some of the most phenomenal cycling displays.

Milan–San Remo 2023

The most recent Milan–San Remo in 2023 had some slight changes and adaptations compared to the traditional race. The race was on the 18th of March. However, this year the cyclists started the race from Abbiategrasso.

Abbiategrasso is a city 22km southwest of Milan. The reason behind the new starting position is somewhat absurd. One of the main reasons behind this move was the lack of traffic police personnel.

The 2022 winner was Matej Mohorič. He pushed the limits in the final stage of the race to win the championship. He seized the opportunity at the Poggio descent, and with a solo attack, seized the win.

But, in the latest edition of the La Classicissima, we saw Mathieu Van der Poel seize the title. Mathieu gave it his all at Poggio for an incredible Milan–San Remo win. Second place went to Ganna Filippo, and third to Van Aert Wout. Last year’s champion came in fourth this time.

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