Good afternoon and welcome to our live rolling blog from Milan-Sanremo, a race the locals call la classicissima, or the classic.
It’s a long one today, it always is. However, due to heavy thunderstorms somewhere along the route, organisers on Friday added a further six kilometres to the official length making today’s race distance 305km. After factoring in the neutralised section put in place at the beginning to help navigate the peloton out of Milan, and these riders will be putting a total of 315km into their legs here today.
Both in the original and revised calendar, Milan-Sanremo is the first of the five monuments of cycling — the others being Il Lombardia, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix — and is the longest one-day race in professional road racing.
The late Tom Simpson became the first British rider to win Milan-Sanremo in 1964 when he outwitted Frenchman Raymond Poulidor on the final Poggio climb before claiming the first of three monuments on his palmarès. Mark Cavendish became the second and, as yet, only other Briton to win the race after pipping Heinrich Haussler to the line in 2009.
Italian riders have dominated the race since its inception in 1907 where they have won 51 of the 110 editions. Following a relative drought for the host nation, Vincenzo Nibali ended a 12-year wait for Italy with his win in 2018 — Filippo Pozzato (2006) being the previous Italian to prevail. Belgium is the second most successful nation with 20 victories, while France is third with 14 — including last year’s winner Julian Alaphilippe.
Although often referred to as a sprinters’ classic, over the years the race has been won by general classification riders, all-rounders and those ordinarily suited to the cobbles of northern Europe. Indeed, recent editions have been won after attacks on the final climb of the day, the Poggio, held all the way to the line, thus denying the pure sprinters the gallop finish they had been thinking of for the preceding seven hours.
Heretics criticise this race for being too long and a little boring, but following the drought of WorldTour action over the last five months one imagines they will be whistling to a different tune on Saturday afternoon.
Racing, in fact, got under way at 10.07am (BST), but forgive us for not guiding you through each and every pedal stroke of the leading protagonists. Firstly, there are no television pictures being beamed over from Italy just yet, and secondly, well, not a great deal of action happens in the opening half of the race.